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Catholic Youth Ministry athletic programs in Diocese of Wilmington could use boost in participants

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Mount Aviat played St. John the Beloved in February 2020 at the 76ers Fieldhouse.

The athletic program operated by Catholic Youth Ministry is robust, serving thousands of youngsters from parishes all over the Diocese of Wilmington. But numbers have dropped in recent years, and CYM’s athletic director is searching for ways to give them a boost.

“I feel like we have room in every sport,” Mike Speicher said recently. “We could grow football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball. They all could use some increase.”

Participation has grown from where it was when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the spring 2020 season, but it is not where it was in the years prior to that. Speicher said he has some theories about why enrollment in CYM athletics is down.

One is that when Catholic schools close, the parish’s athletic programs often disappear with them. That is not always the case, as some parishes that used to have schools have occasionally fielded teams in certain sports. Other parishes without schools, such as St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin, do sponsor CYM teams, but that parish covers a large enough area with lots of families with young children to make that possible, Speicher said.

Catholic Youth Ministry’s football championship in 2018 was played at Saint Mark’s High School.

Part of the issue is finding people to lead these programs, particularly in parishes without schools, he added.

“I can’t get people to step up and run the program and lead it. And if you don’t get that, it will be tough,” he said.

Another factor that has had an impact on CYM numbers is other athletic options. Speicher said the issue isn’t so much with local public and private middle schools offering athletics, but more from club and travel sports. He said baseball and softball have been especially affected by this.

He has been thinking of ways to address this, and one possibility is adjusting the game schedules. Traditionally, CYM has held games on weekends, which is when many young athletes and their families are heading to a club tournament out of state. Speicher said he is considering moving more games to weeknights, which is when a lot of boys volleyball was played this past spring.

Ursuline and St. John the Beloved met in the diocesan girls basketball championship game, one of four at the St. E Center on April 11. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

“I’m trying to talk to athletic directors and coaches about maybe we need to rethink our schedule. We haven’t made any real decisions yet,” he said.

The smaller numbers do not mean that Catholic Youth Ministry’s number of participants is small. Speicher said more than 4,000 youngsters are involved in the various athletics, along with a small army of volunteers. CYM offers football, soccer, volleyball, cross country and cheerleading in the fall; basketball, its largest program, in the winter; and baseball, softball, boys volleyball, and track and field in the spring. Soccer, cross country, and track and field are co-ed.

A new offering this fall is flag football for grades 2-4. It is open to boys and girls. Boys volleyball was added last spring, with six teams participating in the first season.

“Our programs are still large enough,” Speicher said. “In basketball, there’s still about 1,000 games we schedule.”

There is still time to register for fall sports, or to become a volunteer with CYM. Interested parties should call the CYM office at (302) 658-3800 or their local parish for more information. Additional details are available at www.cdowcym.org.