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They carried themselves with a reverence and spirituality that the faithful at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany clearly noticed.

They wore black jackets with the words “Crusader Rugby” on the back, with a large ‘C’ and cross in the middle. And when the relic of St. Jean Vianney, the incorrupt heart, was in the Capitol Region, these young men from Christendom College in northern Virginia wanted to be there. Even on that Friday, before a scheduled rugby match at Siena College.

In between matches of their rugby tournament, they found time to attend Mass at the Cathedral, as well. Did they win the rugby tournament? No, but that wasn’t really the point. In this era of seemingly constant sports on the weekends — from rec leagues to travel and modified leagues — the scene at the Cathedral was refreshing for Catholics. Young athletes putting faith first and athletics second. 

But in the fast-paced world that people live in, what can be gleaned from the example of Christendom College? Some say it’s easier for a Catholic college, high school or grade school to implement that type of behavior in its athletes. What about kids who go to public schools and have practices and games all throughout the week and on Saturday and Sunday. Priests lament the fact that even with a 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday and multiple Masses on Sunday, conflict still exists with sports. Let’s take a deeper look to try to find the answer, which may be easier than you think.

‘Part of the culture’

 When Christendom College’s athletic director Patrick Quest was asked how the college balances sports and faith, the answer was straight and simple.
“It’s part of our culture,” Quest said of the Catholic liberal arts college located in Front Royal, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley. 

“We believe that you live your Catholic faith in your day-to-day life no matter if it’s in the classroom, on the field or in the office.” 
This was a sentiment echoed by senior rugby player Thomas Ward.

“Faith and athletics for me and my fellow teammates on the rugby pitch are inseparable and integrated.  Our mission at Christendom is to “Restore all things in Christ” and this absolutely applies to athletics,” Ward said. “We start and end every practice with the Memorare prayer in Latin followed by an invocation of saints.  

“We constantly remind ourselves that our success on the rugby pitch is all for the greater glory of God as we sing Psalm 115 ‘Not to us Lord, Not to us, but to your name give the glory’ in polyphonic harmony in Latin after every game.”

Coach Jim Conrad added there really is no need to balance faith with athletics.

“For our players, I don’t think it is an issue of balance,” Conrad said. “Their faith is at the heart of everything they do! We start every practice, game-film session, game-time warm-up, and every game with prayer. The team has team Masses once a week, but most players attend daily Mass on campus.”

And what is Conrad’s advice with parents struggling to get their kids to practices, games and Mass?

“I would say that the Holy Eucharist needs to be at the center of their lives,” Conrad said, “and if you commit to that, then scheduling all of those other activities that pile up becomes easier.”

‘I felt bad about that’

One typical Saturday for parents might go something like this:  Youngest son has travel baseball practice from 7:30-9 a.m., a 10 a.m. rec baseball game,  followed by a noon rec baseball game and a possible 4 p.m. championship game; while the oldest son has rec baseball playoffs at 10 a.m., possible rec championship at 1 p.m. and a travel baseball game at 5:30 p.m. The travel baseball game also includes a 30-minute drive.  

Oh, and let’s not forget Sunday morning travel games and practice. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit, according to Catholic News Service, has a new policy that requires Catholic parishes and schools to stop scheduling games and practices on Sunday. The practice goes into effect on Aug. 1.

“In shifting away from the hustle of required sporting activities on Sunday, we will reclaim this holy day and create more time for families to choose activities that prioritize time spent with each other and our Lord,” Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron wrote in the pastoral note “The Day of the Lord.”
It is rare for Catholic parishes and schools to have games or practices on Sunday. But that is not the reality for most parents.

Kate Sherwin, who has seven boys ranging in ages 14 to 9 months who attend St. Clement’s School and Saratoga Central Catholic High School, ran into this problem with the city teams in Saratoga.

“There is a flag football league here in Saratoga, and one of my boys had said they really were interested. And that sounded good to me, so I looked into it and all the games were Sunday mornings; they don’t have any games otherwise,” Sherwin said. “And that hurt. I would say that was the first time that our commitment to our faith really hurt, because I knew that he would love it, and a lot of his friends were doing it, and it sounded like a great program but that just doesn’t work for us. So I felt bad about that.”

So what is a parent to do in this case?

Pray 60

Thomas Cronin has seen it all in youth sports because he was on the frontlines.

“I am almost embarrassed to say this, my daughter was on three basketball teams just a couple  of years ago. She played for the school team, modified, she played CYO and she played Saratoga Rec. Maybe I am even more embarrassed to say I coached two of the three teams,” said Cronin, who is adviser to the Bishop for Family and Parish Evangelization and the chair of the diocesan CYO commission.

“My son — baseball. He played on the JV team in school and he played travel. I was the head coach for his travel baseball. Utterly ridiculous. 

“We started indoor training in January. We went to tunnels, lessons. Major-league baseball pitchers and catchers don’t even report yet, and we are practicing a month before them.

“It’s just the way society has pushed us around.”

So Cronin came up with the “Pray 60” initiative in October of 2015 which calls for 60 minutes of communal worship a week which he modeled after the “Play 60” campaign, which calls for kids to get 60 minutes of healthy exercise a day. One of the main tenets of Pray 60 is to “urge all sports organizations to avoid scheduling activities prior to 1 p.m. on Sundays to provide the opportunity for people to have communal worship.”

“I am not against sports. I love sports. I loved coaching sports,” said Cronin, who has been an active parishioner at St. Joseph’s Church in Greenfield Center for decades. “I loved watching my kids compete, but at the risk of what? It’s now come to the risk of everything, including our faith.”

When you think about it, how hard is 60 minutes a week? Not a day, a week! There are 168 hours in one week which translates to 10,080 minutes in a week. Obviously this does not include time working, going to school or sleeping, but it seems like sports and faith could easily be balanced. At one particular parish, Cronin offered these stats during the homily: 7.4 percent of high school athletes play in college; 1.8 percent play Division I NCAA sports; and less than 2 percent of all NCAA student-athletes play a professional sport.

“So what are we thinking?” an incredulous Cronin says rhetorically. “Those numbers put it in perspective. Why are you putting your faith on the backburner?”

It may sound simple but the answer to the problem is easy:

“Does today’s family life complement or conflict with your faith life?” Cronin asks. “Because really what it comes down to is priorities.”

So the next time you are at Mass, and you see a parent with their daughter dressed in a softball uniform with dirt on her pants or a sweating baseball player with eyeblack still on, don’t cast a sideways glance at them. 

Because they have their priorities straight.