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St. Francis de Sales Lifer Guides CYO Sports Through Pandemic

The CYO boys’ swim team AOK – a combined parish team of St. Anastasia, Douglaston; Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Bayside; and St. Kevin, Flushing – won its third straight diocesan title following a safe return to the swimming season. (Photo: Courtesy St. Anastasia Parish Athletic Representative Linda Doyle)

Running the diocesan Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) sports program in normal times is quite the challenge. Yet the end goal of having children from many different parishes participate together supersedes the long hours of scheduling and coordinating.

The last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, have brought about unprecedented challenges for CYO. Through it all, a strong, dedicated leader emerged to guide the organization’s return to play in as safe a manner as possible.

A lifelong parishioner at St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor, CYO Director Keith Goldberg developed a passion for sports at a young age. He played CYO basketball and baseball for the parish, as well as any sport imaginable on the streets of the Rockaways.

He began coaching intramurals at the parish in 1974, and that soon evolved into coaching CYO and taking over as the volunteer basketball director and parish athletic representative. In 2008, Goldberg was hired by the diocesan CYO main office as a sports coordinator overseeing a variety of sports.

In March 2020, news coverage began detailing a highly contagious coronavirus spreading throughout the globe. This was right at the time when CYO’s largest sport – basketball – was about to host its boys’ diocesan playoffs and championships. Initially, the thought was that there would be a temporary hiatus and then sports would take place as planned.

“Like everything else, when things got to a point in the world where they were shutting down due to COVID, we thought this would be two weeks to stop the spread,” Goldberg said. “We shut down the office with the impression that we would be off for two weeks and then we were going to resume.”

As Goldberg and CYO officials attempted to schedule and reschedule basketball playoff games and the start of the spring sports season, it soon became apparent based on the community viral spread that the remainder of the 2020 sports season would be canceled permanently. CYO immediately set its sights on what needed to be done to have as close to a normal fall season for diocesan children.

Safety of the young athletes has always been a top priority for CYO, but now it became the most important factor to get the kids back playing. With masks required, hand sanitizer readily available, and as much social distancing as possible, CYO fall soccer and cross-country held modified seasons in 2020, while baseball, softball, and flag football had mini-seasons to make up for the lost spring.

The CYO soccer team at Our Lady of Grace, Howard Beach, was fully masked and fully ready to enjoy the outdoor fall season. (Photo: Courtesy Our Lady of Grace)

However, given the indoor nature of the sports, basketball, swimming, and volleyball remained on hold as the City of New York did not allow indoor sports for the winter season. Even with declining COVID numbers, the City held firm in its stance, despite multiple attempts by the CYO Advisory Board and Catholic Schools Office to find out answers.

As the calendar turned to spring 2021, CYO was able to resume the outdoor sports once again – this time with full seasons and diocesan championships. The indoor sports of basketball, swimming, and volleyball were back in action starting this school year following a nearly two-year break.

While repeated scheduling and rescheduling was certainly a challenge, Goldberg said there’s been even more of challenge during the past two years.

“The biggest challenge we had and still have is getting parents to have confidence that when we resumed that their children would be able to safely participate and that they could return their child to participation in CYO without excessive fear,” he said.

CYO will continue to implement its safety protocols as the pandemic lingers on, as the organization attempts to give parish families the highest level of comfort in knowing their children are safe. The inordinate amount of work done by CYO officials to ensure a safe environment has created a needed sense of hope for parish youth.

“I went into this whole situation knowing we could go through the same effort again and end up with the same result as the year before,” Goldberg said. “It was extremely rewarding when the effort this time did result in the kids playing.

“My happiness was mostly for them, but I must say there was a happiness and a relief that this time the effort was rewarded.”


Contact Jim Mancari via email at jmmanc@gmail.com.

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