2008-10-10 / Front Page

CYO Message: Parishioners First

Ending a long-standing principle that the best players were chosen each year to play in the Catholic Youth Organization's basketball program at St. Francis de Sales Church, this year's player selections were based more on being a parish member than on being a star basketball player.

"While we don't care if the kid comes from another planet and we take all kids regardless of religion or race, we had to give our parishioners the first shot at playing basketball this year," said Dr. Joseph Catanello, the executive director of the program for Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). We let anybody in, if there is room for them to play on our teams."

The problem is, says Keith Goldberg, a community resource assistant for the organization, there just isn't enough room for everybody this year and parishioners had to be chosen over non-parishioners, even those who had played in the league in previous years.

"We're a very successful program," Goldberg told The Wave on Wednesday. "Our registration has exploded over the past three or four years from 550 kids to 800 kids. That resulted in capacity issues that we cannot ignore."

The move to give the slots to parishioners first, however, has caused some problems for the church and the community.

Some locals, including a number of Jewish Belle Harbor residents, have come to The Wave complaining that their children have been left behind by the organization's policy.

"My child has played CYO basketball for two years," said one parent, who asked not to be identified for fear that her child would be ostracized in school. "He was one of the stars and now he has been cut because we are not St. Francis parishioners. Since we are Jewish, that is not an option for my family. This is a time we should be bringing kids together, not separating them by religion.

"There are not enough Jewish kids to make their own league, so where do they go," she asked.

Goldberg said that there are 16 teams that make up the CYO league at St. Francis - eight for boys and eight for girls.

Each of those teams has 15 players, more than they should have if every player is to get a good "athletic experience," Goldberg says.

"We let everybody try out and then the decision [as to who would make the team] was made based on both talent first, but if we had too many kids, then the cut was made based on who was registered at the parish," Goldberg explained.

"Parishioners were angry in the past that they worked for the parish, served mass, came to church, and their kids were cut out of what is a parish program," he added. "To them, it was not fair."

He said that there are some nonparish players on teams where there was room for them because nobody from the parish tried out.

He spoke of one case in which 33 third-graders tried out and 30 were chosen for the two available teams.

Of those who were rejected, he said, there was one parishioner and two non-parishioners.

Goldberg said that the program was looking for other options in order to expand the program to more kids.

He says that other facilities would have to be rented, and that it would become expensive for the church to fund an expansion.

Meanwhile, some parents say their kids feel left out because of their religion.

"My son won't even watch basketball on television anymore. He won't talk about what happened and he's been sulking," a parent said. "He feels isolated from his friends and that is not a good thing."

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