CYO football leagues are more fragmented than Pop Warner, American Youth Football, and other established youth leagues. Under financial strain from abuse scandals and declining church membership, some Catholic dioceses have outsourced their sporting programs to their parishes and their booster clubs, which often operate on shoestring budgets and how strictly security they teach.
Still, some dioceses are exercising more control, not less, over their youth sports programs. In Cleveland, the largest diocese in Ohio, CYO is managed by a full-time employee who runs 20,000 sports programs for 11 children, and has a set of charters and bylaws for accountability and legal protection. It introduced seven-on-seven tackle football to make young players comfortable in the game, and has dramatically reduced the amount of contact in practices.
The diocese also works with the Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital to track concussions and other injuries. University Hospitals Sports Medicine, which operates throughout Northeast Ohio, provides coaches with specialists to teach about the prevention and treatment of injuries, including concussions.
Dobie Moser, CYO’s director for Catholic Charities in Cleveland, hopes the additional steps will help tackle the football program, which saw a 42 percent drop among seventh-graders and 58 percent among eighth-graders between 2014 and 2019 has been seen. The flag football program expanded rapidly during this period.
“CYO is not immune: trends and issues in football are also affecting us greatly,” Moser said. “We are not blindly optimistic that what we are doing will reverse these trends.”
All volunteer trainers must take courses on basic medicine and sports teaching methods. Soccer coaches must also attend nine-hour classes on football safety, to encourage coaches to stop using old-fashioned handling methods when head injuries were taken less seriously.
“The biggest asset at CYO is the quality of the coaches,” Moser said. “The biggest risk is the quality of the coaches.”