By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
As the Catholic Youth Organization’s 61st basketball season gets underway, it does so amid unrest in high school and professional sports. In contrast to that, the Mercer County CYO basketball and cheerleading opening day Mass Nov. 1 in the Msgr. Toomey Annex, Yardville, provided a message that was refreshing, hopeful and welcome.
TO VIEW PHOTO GALLERY ON THE MASS, CLICK HERE.
TO VIEW PHOTO GALLERY ON THE OPENING DAY GAMES, CLICK HERE.
With Father Dennis A. Apoldite presiding, CYO basketball players, cheerleaders and supporters were reminded of how Christian values within athletics can positively affect young people — a far cry from recent reports of alleged abuse by NFL and high school football players.
“This is a great way for all the kids to come together from basketball and cheerleading; it’s one gathering point,” CYO athletic director Quincy Walzer said. “Throughout the season they’re playing at different gyms, so the coming together with the Mass and celebrating all of our award winners from last year is a great way to start.”
After readings from Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony players Nick Wilke and Michael Williams, Father Apoldite began with a touch of humor, saying “It’s a good idea this starts on All Saints’ Day, because that’s exactly what these young people are. … And, since I’m not their parents, that’s easy to say.”
He then told the crowd of more than 200 that athletics are a way to build character, enjoy competition, have fun and learn sportsmanship.
“For all you young people, I think you want to have a trophy at the end of the season,” said Father Apoldite, who is also the secretary of the CYO Board of Trustees. “That’s a good goal. And some of you will have it and some of you just might not have it. But (what’s important is) you prepare yourselves to be your very, very best; that you be strong young ladies and young men, that you seek in this good gym a sense of competition to fight for what you really want to achieve in your life on this court.
“To score every time you’re here, to be at peace, not to bully each other. To be a team, to work together like God wants you to. To be friendly, to go for somebody’s throat here on the court but off the court you have a whole other attitude.”
After Mass, awards were given out to the previous season’s scholar athletes and the first games of 2014-15 were played in the CYO’s South Broad Street Center, Trenton.
Beth Fitzpatrick, a CYO Basketball Hall of Famer from her playing days for St. Raphael Parish, Hamilton, was in attendance with her daughter Devon, a St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, soccer player who was one of nine scholar-athlete winners.
“Any time you can hear Father Dennis you’re so fortunate because he is the best,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s so down to earth and he plays to everyone so well, so his message comes across well. It’s about being competitive and competing but there’s more to it than that in the big picture. I thought it was perfect.”
Devon agreed, saying what she got from it was “if you really work during the season you get good things out of it. It tells us to make good choices and you’ll have a good season.”
Dylan McGee a freshman at Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, was another scholar-athlete winner who completed a five-year run with the St. Raphael’s-Holy Angels last winter. He said those still playing in the CYO should be helped by the message.
“I think it helps athletes try to find God and see if they can ask him to help them through the season,” he said.
Volunteer Coach of the Year Greg Rossi, who spent five years with the team from OLS-St. Anthony Parish, Mercerville, said the message should resonate with the players throughout the season.
“It teaches them about competitive sports and how to react to winning and losing,” Rossi said. “With everything that’s going on in the world, CYO sports, and sports programs in general, are one of the most important things to keep our kids safe, off the streets and in an environment where they can participate in an event like this.”
In referring to the aforementioned football allegations, Beth Fitzpatrick said “I can’t even wrap my brain around those types of things.” But she has an idea of how to keep them from happening.
“There’s obviously something missing, there’s some kind of disconnect.” Fitzpatrick said. “Maybe this is the core of it. This kind of thing is what everybody needs. So if Father Dennis could speak to everybody, this would be a much better world.”