Tony Fusco faced a pleasant dilemma as he gathered nominations for a program promoting Catholic values among his parish’s young athletes.
“A couple of coaches said, ‘We have a problem; many of our players meet the general criteria. How do you single out a boy or girl in each division?'” said Fusco, who serves as a basketball coach and Catholic Youth Organization representative at St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads. “I commented (that) that was a good problem to have.”
The diocesan Faith Through Sports Recognition initiative is now entering its second year. It honors CYO participants who meet such standards as consistently demonstrating Catholic values and Christian behavior by word and example; being team players; striving toward team and personal goals; and being positive role models.
“It is a Catholic organization, and those things should be inherent,” Fusco emphasized, noting that there are excellent athletes in his CYO program but, just as importantly, “they’re nice kids and help other kids in practice.”
“It’s something above and beyond what we do in the secular world. People should recognize Catholic players by their behavior, not so much their jersey,” added Sue Versluys, diocesan coordinator of youth ministry.
Parishes with CYO programs are invited to nominate one boy and one girl from each age group for Faith Through Sports Recognition. Bishop Matthew H. Clark will preside at an awards ceremony for soccer players this coming Nov. 27, as well as for basketball athletes the following spring. Both events will take place at Sacred Heart Cathedral, where Bishop Clark also presided over two well-attended recognition services this past year.
Fusco noted that St. Mary Our Mother’s pastor, Father Christopher Linsler, honored the basketball recipients at a season-ending banquet and during a Sunday Mass shortly after the late-March awards ceremony in Rochester.¬†
“We felt this award was an honor. Father explained to everyone in attendance the criteria and how proud we were of each boy and girl in our program, even the ones who did not receive the award,” Fusco said.
Fusco added that he’s glad for the award because it gives less-talented athletes a chance to shine as well: “Too many times in sports, only the superstars get recognition.”
Versluys said she’s hoping for more parishes throughout the diocese to get on board with Faith Through Sports Recognition, saying it’s an excellent vehicle for connecting families with their churches — especially people who may not have been regularly involved in the past.
“The diocese believes sports is an important component of youth ministry and church,” Versluys said. “Sports can bring people into a church setting in a way that fits their needs. Through sports, people can have an experience of God.”
Faith Through Sports Recognition is part of an increased diocesan focus on viewing sports as a ministry and a chance to promote Christian values. For example, Versluys has attended “Play Like a Champion Today” seminars the past two years at the University of Notre Dame, where she’s learned that children in organized sports aren’t nearly as interested in winning as to have fun, improve skills, enjoy the excitement of competition and get exercise. Versluys observed that often it’s the parents and other adults who are too focused on winning and losing, and therefore they need to be enlightened along with their children on the proper priorities of CYO athletics.
In continuing this diocesan focus, Richard Gaillardetz, professor of Catholic studies at the University of Toledo, will present a seminar on Saturday, Sept. 15, titled “Sports: Spiritual Obstacle or Path to God?” It will take place from 10 a.m. to noon at Siena Catholic Academy, 2617 East Ave., Brighton. For details, visit www.dor.org/ec/youthministry/programsandevents/cyoathletics.htm.