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Fostering Sportsmanship

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Helping local, underprivileged schools bring organized sports to their students, Friars Club is a non-profit, Franciscan ministry in Cincinnati that serves both boys and girls, ages 4-17, through baseball, basketball and volleyball programs. Begun 161 years ago, it has worked with Catholic Inner-city Schools Education (CISE) schools for over 10 years.

CISE provides an affordable, quality education to poverty- stricken children, regardless of their family’s religious background and economic status: According to its website, 70-percent of its students are non-Catholic and 94-percent live in poverty.

“Friars has been a great partner to CISE as we have grown in our support of schools to include programming that addresses the academic and social-emotional development of scholars,” said Catherine O’Brien, CISE school program director. “Healthy involvement in skill development, teamwork, discipline and the joy of competition are all a part of a well-rounded education.”

Friars Club runs most CISE schools’ sports programs, providing the necessary sports equipment, a healthy snack and an hour of study time before jumping into their sports. In 2014, they opened a $3.5 million facility that includes four high school basketball courts and a learning center.

“With the CISE schools, we try to provide practices right in their school, primarily because of transportation,” said Annie Timmons, Friars Club president and a member for 44 years. “On the weekends, we like to bring them into our leagues or the games because it gives them an opportunity to meet other kids than the kids they see in the neighborhood and in their school.”

“The kids love the sports,” said Timmons. “[They] find people there that give them that positive affirmation, a positive self-image and self-confidence.”

Recalling the four core values on which the Friars Club focuses with its athletes, she said, “I think that’s what makes us unique, [it’s] the fact that we require the kids to have respect, to be responsible, to have leadership, and to have good sportsmanship.”

Along with coaching sports, Friars Club follows up on the children’s grades to steer them in the right direction and help them achieve academic success.

“Beyond just the sports and the athletics, [there] really is… a mentorship piece,” said Sandy Sieben, Vice President of Operations for Friars Club. “I keep hearing stories of the kids sharing what’s going on at home, sharing hard times, sharing good things that are happening with our coaches and our volunteers … so there’s a really cool connection that happens.”

Through its learning center, students receive education on life skills, such as finance, budgeting and general planning for the future. They also teach skills that help children deal with difficult experiences, like failure, conflict resolution, self-confidence, self-love and mental health issues.

“We continue to assess the community need and also look at what adjustments or new programming might be possible and beneficial to the community,” said Sieben.

“As an organization, we want to be proactive in what we do with the children and make sure that they can handle some of the difficulties that they’re faced with in life,” said Timmons.

Ultimately for Timmons, the best part of Friars Club is “the kids. It has to be the kids. That’s why we’re here. It’s about giving them opportunities.”

For those who wish to help Friars Club continue its mission, visit their website, www.friarsclubinc.org, or learn more by calling at 513-488-8777.

This article appeared in the September 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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