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Sport Summit to Change the Face of Youth Sport

Play Like a Champion Today co-hosted along with the Cushwa Center for American Catholicism, a landmark event last weekend. Timothy Neary, Professor of History at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, presented an Academic Lecture on his recently published Crossing Parish Boundaries which details the history of the founding of the Catholic Youth Organization by Chicago Bishop Bernard Sheil in1930. The original mission of the CYO was to serve all children in Chicago without regard to race, creed or color through sports programs for boys and girls that promoted character development, encouraged faith and taught young athletes to be engaged citizens. Sheil’s CYO was an exercise in interracialism 30 years prior to the civil rights movement and Vatican Council II. You can read more about Neary’s publication in this recent two-part National Catholic Reporter series: Part I Newstory on NCRand Part II Newstory on NCR.

Photo credits: Bishop Bernard Sheil, far left, watches Tony Zale give boxing instructions to Alfred Ragonese, 16, left, and James Johnson, 16, on November 7, 1952, in the Catholic Youth Organization gymnasium in Chicago. (Max Arthur / Chicago Tribune)

Neary’s lecture on February 10 and the subsequent Youth Sport Summit on February 11 were attended by more than 30 CYO directors from 20 cities across the United States, from the Trenton, NJ CYO to across the country from the Seattle, WA CYO. The group was grateful to Neary for his careful scholarship as well as vision to guide the future of sports in our church informed by a historical story that the group was inspired to re-claim today. Saturday’s Summit included a morning of breakout discussion and large group sharing that led to a shared commitment to re-focus Catholic youth sport organizations to serve all youth whether or not they are Catholic -- especially the poor in accord with Sheil's founding vision and Pope Francis' specific directive to sports organizations -- Catholic and secular alike. This is a message Play Like a Champion desires to spread into our communities because without popular support, we cannot be successful.

All of the youth sport leaders present are now engaged in planning within their organizations in cities throughout the country. We want to reach out to those who weren't present so they can be inspired to join this movement to save children through our sports programs. Catholic youth sport leagues across the country should become aware of their rich historical heritage to be inspired to keep fighting the good fight on behalf of all kids. Play Like a Champion's Annual Sport Leadership Conference will feature sessions on this topic. Contact the Play Like a Champion office to join in this conversation.

Photo credits: 1950 CYO Girls Track Team (Archdiocese of Chicago’s Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Archives and Records Center).

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Play Like a Champion Today Educational Series

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