At CYO Opening Day Mass, emphasis placed on discipleship, teamwork
By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
Catholic teaching and athletics came together Nov. 4 as the Mercer County CYO marked the beginning of the 2016-17 season with an annual Opening Day Mass in the gym of the Msgr. Leonard R. Toomey Annex, Yardville.
Father Dennis A. Apoldite, pastor of Trenton's Sacred Heart Parish and member of the Mercer County CYO board of trustees, was the principal celebrant and homilist for the annual Mass to kick off the organization’s 65th season.
See more photos from the CYO Opening Day Mass and basketball games, here.
In his homily, Father Apoldite discussed teamwork and trust, and placed emphasis on discipleship, which he explained as sitting down, coming together and strategizing.
This is true on the court, as well. Planning and practice must take place to be successful in defeating the opposing team.
“[Practice] can sometimes be drudgery, but you made a commitment and you have to stick with it,” Father Apoldite said. “Life is the same way. If you have a goal, you must commit to it.”
Father Apoldite also spoke about how the young athletes should convey their feelings to their parents or coaches when faced with an obstacle such as a team bully. And, they can always find help when they turn to God.
“When you share your feelings, you get help,” he said. “Plus, you don’t have to carry it all on your shoulders. It is the same way being a team member. As you start a new season, you ask for God’s help. You need to be a disciple of Jesus.
“How do you do that? You want to work together as a team. You want to share your thoughts, your feelings, your ability and being one with each other. You play basketball to win, but you also play to become a true person, to feel good about yourself, to understand yourself.”
He added that sharing feelings and thoughts with teammates carries over to the real world, and said, “You can be a good person, a respectful person by sharing your life with family and friends.”
At the conclusion of Mass, CYO representatives honored student-athletes who had standout seasons in the 2016-17 academic year. Nicole Rende and Donavin Crawford, both members of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, were named Athletes of the Year, while Leslie Stachowski, also a St. Gregory’s parishioner, was honored as Volunteer Coach of the Year.
Rende led the CYO basketball league in scoring and was named the Varsity Division’s Most Valuable Player in 2016-17, while helping St. Greg’s to league and playoff titles. She also won the sportsmanship award in the basketball All-Star game and led her parish’s soccer team to league and playoff championships.
“I don’t know what to say, I feel amazing about this,” said Rende, who also was the starting goalkeeper for the varsity soccer team Notre Dame High School this fall. “It’s just a really good feeling.”
Crawford was named basketball league MVP in 2016-17 after leading the Large School Division in scoring. He helped his team to the playoff championship and was the MVP of the All-Star game.
Donavin, who now plays basketball for Conwell-Egan Catholic High School, Levittown, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said he aspires to do the things Father Apoldite addressed in his homily.
“I want to be a leader on and off the court and try to help the other players,” he said. “(Winning his award) is a big honor, this shows all the hard work I put in.”
Stachowski leaves the CYO after five years as a soccer coach. Last spring, St. Gregory won its fourth straight championship.
CYO Athletic Director Quincy Walzer said Stachowski “always had a positive attitude when it came to dealing with the players,” but the coach gave all the credit to her athletes.
“It was just an amazing honor to coach such amazingly talented girls over the last five years,” she said. “They faced every obstacle with determination, with grace. And it was just such a pleasure and a joy to coach my girls. I’m really going to miss them.”
And while her teams won championships, they were never their ultimate goal.
“Before every game after we talked about our strategy, but the last thing I said to my girls was ‘Let’s have fun out there,’” Stachowski said. “It was never about the winning. It was about being together, sharing a moment together and having fun. That’s what it’s all about.
“It was an amazing experience. I wish I could do it all over again but it’s time to let someone else step into my shoes.”
The CYO also recognized a scholar-athlete basketball team of last season’s eighth-graders.
The honorees were Jordan Anderson and Brooke Morales of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton; Bryson Laurente and Olivia Rae Okupski of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton; Anna Ellwood and Aiden Loughran of St. Paul Parish, Princeton; Robert Mathes and Michelle Perez of Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton; Rende; and Molly Lagay of Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, Princeton.[[In-content Ad]]