When the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball teams from St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr, Ozone Park, break their huddle before a game, the chant is as follows: “1-2-3, St. Stan’s! 4-5-6, Together!”
It’s one thing to simply yell those words to get ready for a game, but it takes on a greater meaning at St. Stan’s, since the “togetherness” is evident throughout the parish’s entire CYO program.
For a perfect example, look no further than the welcoming nature St. Stan’s has employed to former youth athletes from St. Thomas the Apostle, Woodhaven, whose CYO basketball program was disbanded in August, 2014 after a 50-year run.
Starting this past season, about 30 players from St. Thomas suited up in the black-and-white uniforms of St. Stan’s. An entire seventh-grade rookie division team from St. Thomas remained intact, and the rest of the players were sprinkled in among the different age groups.
“Wearing a different uniform was probably a little funny for them at the beginning,” said Jimmy Cooke, a former CYO basketball player at St. Thomas who then coached at the parish from 1993 to 2014.
However, the coaches and parents at St. Stan’s ensured that their new players felt comfortable right away.
“Quite honestly, sometimes you have a bad situation and it turns out for the better and that’s exactly what happened here,” said Mike Kelly, father of seventh grader Michael who now plays for St. Stan’s.
One area of concern early on was that St. Stan’s does not have a parish gymnasium. The teams have practiced for the past 14 years at J.H.S. 210 in Ozone Park, but that school has its own set of after-school activities. However, that didn’t stop this new partnership from forming.
“We’ve figured it out for the last 14 years; we used a gym here, a gym there,” said Joe Bode, parish athletic representative at St. Stan’s who started the basketball program at the church and currently coaches two CYO teams. “We’ve always figured it out and have been going on for quite a while now.”
The seeds of this partnership were planted several years ago, when Cooke’s middle son James played for St. Stan’s since St. Thomas did not have enough players to field a team in that age group. So when the St. Thomas program folded, Cooke knew he could rely on Bode.
Open Arms, Big Heart
“Joe had open arms and such a big heart,” Cooke said. “He loves kids, he loves basketball and he loves kids playing sports, and not just to play sports but to build that family atmosphere. He really welcomed that team into his St. Stan’s family.”
The addition of the full team from St. Thomas gave St. Stan’s six teams this season. Of these, Cooke coaches two – his middle son James’ eighth-grade intermediate team and his youngest son Collin’s fourth-grade pee wee team. His oldest son Christian coaches the seventh-grade rookie team.
“He’s (Cooke) got a great attitude; he reminds me of a younger me,” Bode said. “He’s very passionate like myself, and it’s just a perfect partnership. It’s been so far so good. There are a lot of good things ahead for the program.”
The future certainly does look bright for the St. Stan’s hoops teams. A few weeks after the start of the season, the program was given prime access to the gymnasium that used to be the home of the St. Benedict Joseph Labre, Richmond Hill, CYO program – now it’s attached to Epic North Charter School.
Having this gym will allow St. Stan’s to continue opening its doors to former athletes from St. Thomas. Bode said his goal for next season is to have eight to 10 teams.
Fitting in with the theme of togetherness, this situation displays exactly what the CYO stands for in regard to inclusion: St. Stan’s ensured that they would give the opportunity to as many kids as possible to play the game of basketball.
And although that number is likely to increase, the same principles will undoubtedly be in place as the next CYO season gears up next winter.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.