Catholic Schools Week: Flag football, cross country part of CYO expansion
By John Sacco
GREENSBURG – The Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) athletics program, which offers students enrolled in Diocese of Greensburg Catholic schools and parishioners of Diocesan parishes the opportunity to participate in various sports, has seen significant growth over the last five years.
Fall co-ed cross country and flag football programs have been added, and some sports, including cheerleading and cross country, are now available to children as young as kindergarten age.
The CYO program aims to provide a welcoming and inclusive team environment that helps develop players’ mind, body and moral character. Conducting these activities within a Christ-centered environment makes the CYO program unique. The goal is to make sports fun for everyone and build teams in which all children feel accepted and cared for.
The first year of the flag football program included 160 participants and 16 teams across four age divisions. Coaches and players said the experience was positive, and expressed a desire to continue the program next year.
“These programs are special and are very much a partnership between the programs and their coaches,” said Amanda Iwinski, Coordinator of Catholic Schools, said. “It is ‘all hands on deck’ with our coaches. We’ve taken a team approach with the coaches, seeking feedback and guidance from them as we develop this new sport.”
Games are played at Greensburg Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School and Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School, Connellsville.
In the inaugural year of co-ed cross country in 2016, there were 101 participants. This year, there were 306 participants.
“That is an increase of more than three times the amount the first year,” Iwinski said.
The cross-country championship is held at Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, while meets are held at GCC, Geibel Catholic and Kunkle Park in Washington Township.
Basketball, volleyball and cheerleading have been staples of the CYO program. Girls’ basketball is played in the fall, while the boys play in the winter. Volleyball begins in March, and cheerleading is a year-round sport. Soccer has not been played in several years, but it may return depending on interest levels.
The additional programs have made an impact on student-athletes.
“Playing in the CYO leagues has been life-changing,” said Georgia Evans, an eighth-grader at Christ the Divine Teacher School, Latrobe, who participates in basketball and cross country. “It has developed me in so many ways. The sport itself, team-building opportunities and the opportunity to lift the comradery between teammates is really important to me.”
Ethan Stevenson, an eighth-grader at Geibel Catholic, said he had fun playing flag football.
“It definitely helps me develop my friendships and to share the sport with my friends,” Ethan said. “I played a lot of positions, rotating from quarterback and running back. I liked having the ball in my hands.”
Iwinski said cross country and flag football have helped make the CYO program better.
“We meet with the athletic directors throughout the year to discuss issues and dialogue about what improvements we can make to the program. We’re always having conversations about ways to enhance the children’s experience and develop a more cohesive league,” she said. “The flag football program and cross country programs were both true grassroots effort that were proposed by school athletic directors.”
Iwinski said all coaches are trained in the University of Notre Dame’s Play Like a Champion Today program, which offers a one-of-a-kind, interactive clinic that educates coaches on how to foster the full development of athletes through building cohesive teams. The Play Like a Champion Today coaching philosophy involves protecting the joyful dimensions of sports as competitive play and the educational dimension of sports as fostering children’s physical, social, emotional and moral development. The Play Like a Champion Today program was implemented in the Diocese of Greensburg in 2016.
“We want every child who participates in CYO to have an opportunity to play and to walk away having had a good experience,” Iwinski said.