Iona University’s CYO/High School Day Inspires the Next Generation of Student-Athletes

| 12/29/2023

By: Monica Bogan

Local student-athletes from the region, along with their coaches and family members, were invited to cheer on the Gaels and get a taste of collegiate athletics

Players on the Sacred Heart-Dobbs Ferry girls' basketball team pose for a photo at Iona's CYO/High School Day.
Players on the Sacred Heart-Dobbs Ferry girls' basketball team pose for a photo at Iona's CYO/High School Day. Photo: Courtesy of Michele Campbell

Earlier this month, Iona University women’s basketball team hosted Sacred Heart at the New Rochelle campus, defeating Sacred Heart 60 to 50. Not only were fellow students, players’ family members, and alumni in attendance, but this game was also Iona’s CYO/High School Day for women’s basketball. Local basketball teams from the region, with players aged six to 17, along with coaches and family members, were invited to cheer on the Gaels. Besides being a fun outing, it also provided the young athletes the opportunity to get a taste of collegiate athletics.

One of those in attendance was Michele Campbell, whose daughter plays basketball for CYO’s Westchester/Putnam league within the Sacred Heart / Our Lady of Pompeii parish in Dobb’s Ferry, and attended game with her teammates. Campbell, who is a co-coordinator for the Westchester league, is a former college athlete herself and understands the importance of building an interest in collegiate sports at a young age.

“To see the game in person is amazing,” said Campbell. Her daughter’s head coach, Jessie O’Donohue, spent the game sitting with the girls to point out specific plays and “get the girls excited.”

While many students are active in youth sports, attending collegiate games is a unique opportunity to expose younger athletes to the next level of play that is still close to home. “Iona’s in our backyard, they’re involved in the community, and they’re a D1 school,” Campbell said. “It is really the exposure that these opportunities [are] in our backyard, and this is the next level.”

Universities, youth sports programs, and parents can all play a role in allowing students to understand how their athletic pursuits can continue beyond middle and high school. Iona’s involvement in the community through events like this is an example of how higher education institutions can engage with younger athletes. “We should provide [students] with all the tools and all the things that could happen and…expose them to what a student-athlete could be and the positive environment,” Campbell noted. “Keep them excited.”

Benefits of Youth Sports

Whether a child is interested in playing at a D1 school or simply enjoys playing recreationally, youth sports are an opportunity to encourage an active lifestyle and foster good habits and values.

Student-athletes develop skills such as discipline and time management to balance school and extracurriculars. Students also learn the importance of values like teamwork, hard work, and sportsmanship with like-minded individuals. And the experience provides kids and teens a healthy outlet to release their emotions.

Seeing athletes at a high level of play who are using those skills can be inspiring for the next generation. Campbell noted that O’Donohue pointed out elements of good sportsmanship to the girls, such as when the coaches shake hands at the end of the game, and reminded them that these athletes are playing at this level and juggling their academic studies.

Sports can also be a way to foster community and identity, especially among Catholic youth through programs like CYO. Campbell noted that many of the girls on the team have a variety of interests ranging from swimming and track to dance and art, but they find commonality in basketball and their faith community.

“The kids work together, run together, go to events together. They’re bonded through their religious education classes, and [sports] is another way to bond. They go to church on Sunday, and practice on Monday. They’re Catholic and Christian student-athletes.”

How to Get Involved

CYO NY, a division of Catholic Charities Community Services, provides organized athletics programs for children and youth aged four to 21. Programs are available in hundreds of parishes across the Archdiocese of New York. If a child isn’t ready to commit to an organized league, options such as a recreational league, lessons, or a camp can allow kids to try out a sport before making a more formal commitment.

“The potential for development among the younger kids is so incredible,” said Campbell. “You just have to provide the opportunities. I can’t say anything negative about youth sports.”

If your child is interested in exploring CYO sports, you can check out the CYO NY website at https://www.cyony.org/ or reach out to your local parish office.

The beloved pastor of St. Peter-St. Mary Church in Haverstraw, Father Madden entered eternal life on February 21, 2024, surrounded by his family.

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