By Joe Kozinski
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY — As cold weather approaches, the athletes, coaches and parents of the Inter-City Catholic League move into local cracker box gyms and contained venues. For the league, the outdoor voices that should be checked with the winter coats often invade these echoing locations and bring with them the most feared villain of any organization that caters to youth development — the lack of sportsmanship.
“We have always strived to provide a positive environment for our athletes,” beckoned ICCL President Tony Violi. “Sometimes it’s a very difficult task, but it’s a value that is the cornerstone to our faith.”
“Our coaches have the ability to use our league as a teaching platform, not only for developing basketball players but better people,” explained ICCL Director of “B” Team Basketball Tyler Dendy. “We ask all of the coaches and parents to embrace our mission and be positive and supportive to all the participants, including the opponents.”
“The gift of coaching young men in athletics also crosses over to living our faith as Catholics,” expressed Dendy. “If we stay within our doctrine it directly flows into sportsmanship.”
Coach John Wooden was often quoted as saying, “Sports does not build character. They reveal it.”
“Sportsmanship comes from within. It takes common sense and a focus on what the real meaning of what youth athletics is all about,” remarked Violi. “Our league has developed contracts for coaches, players and parents to have all three work together as it pertains to sportsmanship and Christian values.”
“The directives are pretty simple. I will place the emotional and physical well-being of my child ahead of any personal desire to win, and I will demonstrate the Christian values of self-restraint, fair play and sportsmanship in my treatment of others at every game, practice sessions or other ICCL events,” exclaimed Violi. “It’s about reflecting and understanding that no one is perfect and when we are at events we ourselves can teach through example.”
“One man practicing sportsmanship is better than 50 preaching it,” said Knute Rockne.
“Positive example doesn’t stop at the coaches in our league. It must, and I mean must, be displayed by our parents for it to translate to our kids,” added Dendy, who also teaches at Christ the King School. “The players are constantly looking to see what behavior is acceptable and the crowds have a huge effect on how the players react to situations on the court and outside the gym.”
“Some of our parishes have adopted the “Play Like a Champion” approach as it relates to sportsmanship and it’s another tool that rings the league’s sentiments as it relates to our mission,” explained Violi. “Everything we can do to bring a friendly and nurturing environment helps.”
“Unfortunately, signing a contract and attending classes doesn’t ensure that there won’t be hiccups along the way,” stressed Violi. “It takes everyone, every event working together to set the example needed to develop our youth into tomorrow’s leaders.”
The ICCL starts all contests with a prayer to St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes, and often it is the children that stand upfront and lead others in the devotion.
“God our Father, help us to put forth our best effort, to represent our school with class, to respect our opponents, and to grow as disciples of Your Son, Jesus. Keep us safe from injury and harm through the intercession of Our Lady, the mother of Your Son and our mother, too. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
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