A new Diocesan CYO Commission has been formed to oversee Catholic Youth Organization basketball programs across the Albany Diocese.

The 11-member commission, made up of pastors, CYO directors, Catholic school principals, parish faith formation staff and staff with business expertise, has already met for the first time and plans a second meeting May 22.

Currently, 26 parishes in the Diocese sponsor CYO basketball teams for boys and girls in grades five through eight. Some have several teams, with up to a dozen children on each.

But, as Brian Evers discovered while doing VIRTUS safe environment training for parishes over the past year, not all parishes have solid connections with their CYO programs.

"How do we use CYO as an evangelization tool?" pastors asked Mr. Evers, who is associate director of safe environment for the Diocese.

The director said parishes wanted to honor the good work that CYO basketball does, while also making sure that there's centralized oversight of all the teams in the Diocese.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger agreed. After a meeting of pastors, CYO leaders and others, the commission members were selected:

•  Thomas Cronin of St. Joseph's parish in Greenfield Center, a longtime coach, chair of the new commission and founder of the "Pray 60" campaign to encourage coaches to not schedule games or practices until after 1 p.m. on Sundays;

•  Randy Rivers, youth minister at St. Clement's parish in Saratoga Springs and Our Lady of the Annunciation in Queensbury and CYO director at St. Clement's;

•  Ray Piscitelli, diocesan CYO Director and also director for Troy-area CYO;

•  Bill Murphy, Albany area CYO director;

•  Jim Fazzone, Schenectady area CYO director;

•  Traci Johnson, principal of All Saints Catholic Academy in Albany, where CYO teams practice in the school gym, whose children also played CYO basketball;

•  Steve Lombard, principal of Saratoga Central Catholic High School, who has longtime involvement with CYO;

•  Diane Galarneau, director of religious education at St. Anthony's parish in Schenectady;

•  Nancy Uruskyj, business manager at St. Pius X parish in Loudonville;

•  Ted Vandeven of St. Clement's parish in Saratoga Springs;

•  Rev. Christopher DeGiovine, pastor of St. Matthew's parish in Voorheesville; and

•  Rev. Thomas Morrette, pastor of All Saints on the Hudson parish in Mechanicville/Stillwater, which is hosting the commission meetings.

CYO basketball "is a parish ministry," Mr. Evers told The Evangelist. Coaches "really are catechists," since children who play on their teams spend so much time with them.

But, just as a faith formation catechist wouldn't be handed a manual the day before beginning to teach, he said, a coach can't be asked to keep CYO's Catholic identity in mind without some assistance.

Parishes also need to know who enforces CYO guidelines on everything from finances to dealing with parents of team members or disciplinary issues.

One goal for the new commission is to write a prayer that can be recited before all games in the Diocese. Another is to look at financial "best practices" for parishes and apply those to CYO programs.

There are some great ideas out there, Mr. Evers noted: for instance, at St. Pius X parish in Loudonville, the CYO season kicks off with children wearing their team jerseys to a Mass where they get a blessing from Rev. James Walsh, pastor.

As the commission settles down to work, Mr. Evers will turn over all questions about CYO to them. The three main areas of the Diocese that offer CYO programs are Albany, Troy and Schenectady; the commission will be under the umbrella of the diocesan Office of Catholic Education and Faith Formation Services, led by Rev. Robert Longobucco, who is vicar for Catholic faith formation and education and pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady.

"We're very excited about it," Mr. Evers said of the group. "This is about how best to help our coaches, our athletic directors" -- and the parishes they serve.

(Contact the Diocesan CYO Commission at cyo@rcda.org.)