A JUNIOR GIRLS' SEMI-FINAL game between teams from St. Jude the Apostle in Wynantskill and St. Pius X in Loudonville.
A JUNIOR GIRLS' SEMI-FINAL game between teams from St. Jude the Apostle in Wynantskill and St. Pius X in Loudonville.

Kids in CYO basketball in the Albany Diocese are asking for help from above — but not to win games.

Starting in the 2017-18 season, the Diocese’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball league suggested each CYO team read a pre-game prayer. The prayer was written by members of the diocesan CYO commission, and was created in hopes of tightening the connection between the Catholic faith and sports.

“Heavenly Father, we pray that our hearts be open to see your presence in and through sports,” the prayer states. “We pray for our athletes who, through sports, develop character and values. We pray for our coaches, who place players before winning and value sportsmanship. We pray for parents, who love their children for who they are, not for how they perform. We pray for the officials, who inspire fair play. We pray for all here present, in thanksgiving for their support of the children in this program. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Bill Murphy, CYO director for the Albany area, helped write the prayer along with other CYO directors serving on the commission. He said the idea was sparked by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, who mentioned that the connection between a parish and its CYO team should be more than just a name on a jersey.

At the start of the season, the CYO commission met with every parish athletic director to explain the prayer, recommended to be recited before every game. Mr. Murphy said it was a “very, very positive” addition to the basketball season.

“The prayer set a tone that didn’t exist previously,” he explained. “We’re competitors, but we’re all brothers and sisters. That’s what we are really here for. People lose sight of the bigger picture, of what sports are all about.”

The prayer addresses all components of CYO basketball, from asking God to help the athletes develop values to aiding coaches, parents and officials to inspire love, enjoyment of the game and fair play.

Christian attitude
“This prayer sets a tone that makes you stop and think,” said Mr. Murphy. “This is not the NBA finals. Let’s not forget that, in the end, we’re all Christians and Catholics.”

The CYO basketball season runs from December to February. Mr. Murphy said he attended around 50 games this past season and could see how the prayer affected the games compared to last year.

Randy Rivers, athletic director at St. Clement’s parish in Saratoga, agreed with the pre-game prayer’s effectiveness. Mr. Rivers read the prayer at almost every CYO basketball game held in St. Clement’s School gym. “It really changed the dynamic of the game,” he said: Parents were calmer and players “more cordial” on the court.

“You wait for the coaches to hype [the players] up; then you do the prayer, and it calms them back down,” he said. “You can see a difference in the mentality.”

Justin Duscher is on St. Clement’s seventh-grade CYO basketball team. He said the prayer helps bring the focus of the game away from winning and more toward just trying one’s best.

“I feel like you’re not that competitive [after the prayer],” he explained.

Love CYO
Justin added that, after praying, “people weren’t fouling as much” and “nobody was focusing on trying to be better than others.”

His mother, Michelle, said that Justin has been playing basketball since second grade. Of all the leagues in which he’s played, Justin said CYO is his favorite: “It’s competitive, but we all work as a team. We’re all good friends.”

“The CYO program means so much to us. I’ve never missed one game,” said Mrs. Duscher. She added that, since adding the prayer to the CYO games, “it’s like you feel the presence of God in the room.”

The pre-game prayer “ties your faith to your life,” said Mr. Rivers. “It’s not just something you’re repeating in church; it’s your faith to be Christ like when playing the game.”