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Catholic sports league promotes character development, not just game skills
By Ambria Hammel

.- Late in the championship game for “big” schools, eighth-grader Alex Pierre collided with his opponent in the end zone.

Both landed in the dry grass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, Ariz., a neutral site. As soon as Pierre got up, he instinctively offered his hand to his opponent and helped him up. Neither was injured.

“It’s just a common courtesy to the other team,” Pierre, a halfback and wide receiver for Ss. Simon and Jude said. “I always pick them up if they’re down.”

Pierre, who also plays club football and basketball, said joining a Catholic school team was a way to grow spiritually and physically with his friends.

Teammate Peter Stalzer, quarterback and tight end, was sure to tell his opponents “good job,” even if the pass fell incomplete. They still tried their best, Stalzer quickly defended.

The Ss. Simon and Jude players, who finished second in the tournament Oct. 31, are among 300 football players and more than 1,000 girl volleyball players who strived to embrace the same philosophy during the fall Catholic Youth Athletic Association season. Promoting a Christian atmosphere and selfless effort are at the core of the organization for more than 20 years.

“Good sportsmanship is a constant, ongoing goal,” said Gary Coffman, boys athletic director of the CYAA.

It’s something he drills into his coaches as much as three times a year because each new season can bring a slate of new volunteer parent coaches. Maggie Wirth just finished her second season coaching girls volleyball for Christ the King in Mesa. She enjoys the Christianity of the league, especially the pre-game prayer that gathers both teams in the same circle.

“It teaches the girls we’re children of God. We’re all in this together, win or lose,” Wirth said.

She even found herself calling another coach after a tournament game to apologize for having their differences earlier. Wirth said it’s important for parents and coaches to set the right example.

Coffman couldn’t agree more. At the same time, he knows after seven years as athletic director and a lifetime as a player or coach, that players often find ways to be their own example.

Take, for instance, the eighth-grade volleyball team at St. Jerome. The Falcons essentially rooted for every opponent this season, a first for them. The girls made posters for each home match that read, “Good luck” and added the school’s name. They also offered them snacks.

“We want to have a good impact on the other team and to make sure they know we’re not bad people and won’t say bad things to them,” explained Faith Kaylor, a setter.

St. Louis the King’s volleyball team sent them a letter after their matchup earlier this year. It said the Falcons, who finished fourth in the “small” school tournament, had the best sportsmanship they’ve seen.

Mary Grace Blaser, a seventh-grader at Christ the King, found that the sportsmanship is better in Catholic sports. Her teammates agreed. They said that while opponents at the club level might wish each other luck before a game, it’s more heartfelt in CYAA.

The teams care about their win/loss record, Coffman said, but the idea of representing the school predominates. He said that’s critical for athletes to embrace as they advance in school.

The Cougars at Christ the King keep the school and faith they represent in mind with every volley. They end every time out chat chanting, “In Jesus’ name we play!”

Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper for the Diocese of Phoenix, Ariz.


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