When it came to planning a Catholic Impact Initiative for Courageously Living the Gospel, the parishes of the North Central Deanery decided to think outside the box, or actually just outside. They chose to start an inter-parish sports league with the hope of attracting families and instilling values of faith on the field. Their first soccer season kicked-off September 7, 2019.
“This is a large and major undertaking. It is a leap of faith on the part of our pastors. But we have an organized and practical model in place to follow, that of the sports program at Our Lady of the Rosary,” said Father Tim Corcoran, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Tampa and dean of the North Central Deanery.
While there are nine parishes and three missions in the North Central Deanery, Father Tim expected the program to grow slowly with one or two joining the first year. However, more than 400 youth from five parishes have signed on and the league’s first season sold out quickly. The participating parishes are St. Timothy, Lutz; Most Holy Redeemer, Tampa; St. Mary, Tampa; Our Lady of the Rosary, Land O’ Lakes and St. Mark the Evangelist, Tampa.
Our Lady of the Rosary Parish pioneered the concept for a parish athletic program back in 2012. Patrick Poland, a parishioner, established the program as a way to evangelize when he saw that fewer families in the area were practicing the faith. He also wanted to start a sports program that would help young people to practice Christian attitudes and responsibilities. Now the program has expanded to become the Catholic Youth Sports League sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
“Our league does not emphasize the number of games won or lost, but rather the attitude in victory or defeat. Learning how to lose is just as important as learning how to win. Learning how to win graciously is more important than winning itself,” said Poland, who volunteers as director of the League.
“We pray before every game, encountering God on the field and in nature. We are also building community among families. The time we spend together spills into other ministries,” added Poland.
To participate, coaches and family members are required to model good sportsmanship. They have a code of conduct that stresses positive interactions and prohibits putting pressure on the children and making derogatory comments. They also have an “all play” rule that ensures each child will play at least half of each game.
The League is designed for boys and girls between the ages of 4-18. The cost to participate is kept reasonable and all the money goes to the children because everyone is a volunteer. Also, athletes who cannot afford the registration fees have received scholarships from generous donors. Eighty children from the Santa Maria Mission in Tampa received scholarships to join the League.
At the end of the season this November, one team from the ages 10 and up division will take home the grand prize: the Catholic Cup. The winner will display the Catholic Cup Trophy in their home parish until the next tournament.
While a youth sports league might seem outside the box, Father Tim said it’s a great fit for fulfilling the mission of Courageously Living the Gospel.
“It brings children and families together at the church, expands socialization and encourages other church activities,” said Father Tim.
North Central Deanery Parishes: Corpus Christi Catholic Church, Temple Terrace; Epiphany of Our Lord, Tampa; Immaculate Conception Haitian Mission, Tampa, Santa Maria Mission, Tampa, St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission, Tampa, Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Tampa; Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, Land O’Lakes; St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, Tampa; St. Mary Catholic Church, Tampa; St. Paul Catholic Church, Tampa; St. Timothy, Lutz; USF Catholic Student Center, Tampa (North Central Deanery)
Pope Francis Speaks About Sports and Faith
The harmonious development of the person must always be at the forefront of all who have responsibility for sport, be they coaches, instructors or administrators.
Experiences people have while participating in sport –of joy, encounter with others different from themselves and the building up of community, growth in the virtues and in self-transcendence –can also teach us something about the human person and his or her destiny.
Practicing sports helps the human being to grow because he becomes capable of generating an environment that combines freedom and responsibility, creativity and respect for rules, entertainment and seriousness. This environment comes about through cooperation and accompanying each other in the development of individual talents and character.
Catholic Youth Sports League Pregame Prayer
God, as we prepare to compete in this athletic contest, we ask your help and blessing that we may compete to the best of our abilities and with a true spirit of sportsmanship so that our efforts give greater glory to You, our Creator. We ask that you protect us from injury and help us remember that our opponents are our brothers and sisters who are also under your guidance. For this we pray, Amen.
Catholic Youth Sports League End of Game Prayer
Lord, we thank you for the opportunity and challenge of this game. You call us to compete well, finish the race and grow in our faith! Help us to remember we can do all things through You, who gives us strength. Amen.
Photos by Vance Anderson