When the St. Andrew Avellino, Flushing, Pee-Wee boys’ Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball team won its diocesan championship in March 2020, that was supposed to kick off a full slate of title games.
It turns out that game wound up being the last CYO basketball game played as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the diocese, state, nation, and globe.
Finally though after nearly two full years, CYO hoops have returned to Brooklyn and Queens.
Basketball is by far the CYO’s most popular sport. After months of diligently planning and adhering to local safety guidelines, a soft launch of 25 games during the weekend of Jan. 14-16 officially commenced the season.
“We put our feet in the water to see how everybody would do following the protocols,” said CYO Director Keith Goldberg, who attended games at 10 different sites over those three days. “That did go well, which then led to playing mostly every game scheduled for the next weekend.”
More than 300 teams from 30 parishes are participating this season. That includes boys’ and girls’ teams from grades three through eight. If all continues to go well, the CYO high school divisions will begin later in the spring.
Staying safe remains the league’s top priority. Goldberg developed safety protocols based on what the CHSAA has implemented for indoor sports as well as guidance from the CDC and NYC Department of Health. The protocols received the go-ahead from the diocese’s COVID response team, which has allowed for the sport’s safe return.
Spectators are allowed, though are limited to two adults per player. The only people allowed in the gymnasiums are the players, coaches, officials, and the limited spectators. Everyone must fill out a COVID-related questionnaire prior to arriving at the site.
As for masks, everyone in the gym is required to wear a mask at all times. Players on the court can pull their mask down under their chin while they’re on the court due to the strenuous nature of the activity.
In addition to the diocesan COVID response team, the administrators of the Catholic academies provided important feedback to the CYO’s proposed safety guidelines.
“I can’t even stress enough how helpful the school superintendent’s office, particularly Dr. Tom Chadzutko and Joan McMaster, has been,” Goldberg said. “They have been so supportive and helpful in us getting back to playing.”
CYO plans to hold a complete session of playoffs and anticipates playing diocesan championship games later in the spring. The short-term goal is to get in as many games as possible over the next few weeks without interruption.
John Hickey, parish athletic representative since 2004 at Sacred Heart, Glendale, knows how challenging the last two years have been for the children. He’s excited to oversee the parish’s 14 teams split between the boys’ and girls’ divisions.
“It’s a relief because it’s gone on for so long,” Hickey said. “It’s not necessarily the All-Star ballplayer that CYO serves. It’s the kids that are never going to be a pro basketball player but just enjoy participating with their friends. My concern was that some of those kids would never play basketball again. It has been good to see this for them.”
Having as many kids as possible play a sport they love – no matter their skill level – is exactly what our diocesan CYO stands for. Thanks to important safety guidelines as well as planning, re-planning, rescheduling, and a whole lot of patience, the CYO’s top sport is back on top.
“It was such a joy on that first weekend,” Goldberg said. “Aside from observing that everyone was doing a good job with the protocols, the pleasure of seeing the joy on the children’s faces being back out there on the court was just tremendous.
“It was glowing, and it was palpable. There was lots of excitement as everyone put on their parish jerseys and competed once again.”
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.