Catholic Free Press

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Basketball league grows at St. Joan of Arc Parish

Posted By March 27, 2014 | 12:15 pm | Lead Story #3
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By Tanya Connor

Helping children and teenagers learn to play basketball at church six days a week is a mission for some local Catholics – in a variety of ways.
As children played in the semi-finals in the Arc at St. Joan of Arc Parish Saturday, organizers John Rodriguez and Kayt O’Rourke told The Catholic Free Press about the Lincoln Street Saints League. (Finals are April 5.)
Mr. Rodriguez and Mrs. O’Rourke  said they’ve helped with the league since Patricia Austin and Monica Jackson started it seven years ago. Mrs. O’Rourke said they took it over when the others gave it up two years ago.
When the league started, St. Joan of Arc and St. Bernard parishes shared a pastor, Father José A. Rodríguez, and games were played in St. Bernard’s gym.
In 2008 St. Bernard’s was merged with Our Lady of Fatima Parish, whose pastor, Father Edward M. Ryan, became the new parish’s pastor. Later the parish, which uses St. Bernard’s church and gym, was named Our Lady of Providence.
But some connections with St. Joan of Arc remain. After the Arc was completed in 2012, the basketball games were held in both gyms, Mrs. O’Rourke said. Now St. Bernard’s gym is being renovated, so all games are at the Arc, she said.
About 200 youth ages 4 to 16 play, up from about 130 originally, she said. She and Mr. Rodriguez are volunteers, as are the coaches and kitchen help.
Businesses sponsor teams for $200 each, which helps pay referees, and for T-shirts, trophies and other expenses, the organizers said. That is supplemented by food sales.
They don’t pay rent for the gym, where coaches take turns holding practices from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and youth play games all day Saturday, the organizers said. Mrs. O’Rourke said she comes Saturday mornings and Mr. Rodriguez spends the whole day there – 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. When he leaves, it’s to do things for the league.
“And he knows all the kids,” she said. “Every one of them love him.”
Why does he do it?
“It gives kids something to do,” responded Mr. Rodriguez. “To teach kids how to play basketball – that’s our purpose. Every kid has to play at least twice in every game.” (It doesn’t get competitive until the youth enter the higher age groups, for ages 10 to 12 and 13 to 16, he said. Younger children are in groups for ages 4 to 6 and 7 to 9.)
“It’s good exercise for them,” Mr. Rodriguez maintained. “They wear their uniforms with pride; they even come to practice with their uniforms.”
Does the league function as part of the church’s evangelization mission?
“The evangelization would be taking them out of the streets and giving them something to do,” Mr. Rodriguez replied. The youth are also told that they are at a church, and they are not to swear or fight, he added.
“And Father Miguel shows up once in a while, so it shows the presence of the clergy,” he said of St. Joan of Arc’s pastor, Father Miguel A. Pagán.
“The basketball league is a hook for kids to hang on to the Church,” said Father Pagán. It’s a way of keeping them connected to the Church, in addition to their connection through religious education classes.
“They realize the Church is meaningful for them,” he said of playing basketball there. “These are life experiences that will stay with them forever. … Somehow, some way, the Gospel reaches them there.”
And not just them – their parents too.
Father Pagán said parents look at bulletin board items and ask other parents and volunteers about the Mass schedule and the reception of sacraments.
One reason this is needed is that Muslims are proselytizing here, he said, noting that there is a mosque nearby. Once Muslim fliers offering backpacks for children were placed on cars in St. Joan of Arc’s parking lot, he said. He said he called the Muslims about the fliers and received an apology.
“Hispanics are very grateful,” he said; they tend to go to places where they get help.
“A lot of families who left the Church (for other parishes) come back here because they like what we’re doing,” said Mrs. O’Rourke. “They’re the future of the Church – the children. If they’re doing stuff in the church hall, they feel closer, I think, to the Church.”
“It’s the call to service,” Mr. Rodriguez said, noting that youth also volunteer, and become better people when they grow up doing that.
Christopher Charest, 17, of Our Lady of Providence, said he’s been playing in the league about seven years. He said he got his confirmation service hours volunteering there, something he also did before and after confirmation. He’s helped coach younger youth and enjoys playing too.
“It’s just fun, competitive; there’s always new kids coming,” he said. And they remain friends, regardless of their team.
“The coaches are fun too,” he said. “The coaches have their own competition” with their teams.
“It’s great for the kids; it teaches them teamwork,” said Bradford Hogan, whose son Zachary, 10, has been playing for three or four years. “Even when he doesn’t feel good, he wants to come.”
Mr. Hogan said his family belongs to Greendale People’s Church, but he grew up at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, where he played basketball informally in the gym.
Father Pagán has high hopes for the league. He said there are plenty of youth in the neighborhood, enough for more than one league – and more than one gym. He expressed hope that some players make it to the NCAA or maybe the NBA. And that they live up to the league’s name and become saints.