C.Y.O. football leagues are more fragmented than Pop Warner, American Youth Football and other established youth leagues. Some Catholic dioceses, under financial strain from the abuse scandals and a decline in church membership, have outsourced their sports programs to their parishes and their booster clubs, which often operate on shoestring budgets and vary in how rigorously they teach safety.
Still, some dioceses are taking greater control of their youth sports programs, not less. In Cleveland, the largest diocese in Ohio, C.Y.O. is managed by a full-time staff that runs 11 sports programs for 20,000 children, and has a set of charters and bylaws for accountability and legal protections. It introduced seven-on-seven tackle football to ease young players into the game, and has dramatically reduced the amount of contact in practices.
The diocese also works with the sports medicine center at the Akron Children’s Hospital to track concussions and other injuries. University Hospitals Sports Medicine, which operates throughout Northeast Ohio, provides experts to teach coaches about the prevention and treatment of injuries, including concussions.
Dobie Moser, the director of C.Y.O. for Catholic Charities in Cleveland, hopes the extra steps bolster the tackle football program, which has seen a 42 percent decline among seventh-graders and a 58 percent drop among eighth-graders between 2014 and 2019. The flag football program during the same period expanded rapidly.
“C.Y.O. is not immune: The trends and issues in football also are very much affecting us,” Moser said. “We’re not blindly optimistic that what we’re doing will reverse these trends.”
All volunteer coaches must take courses on basic medicine and sports teaching methods. Football coaches must also attend nine hours of classes on football safety to get coaches to stop using out-of-date tackling methods they learned growing up, when head injuries were taken less seriously.
“The greatest asset in C.Y.O. is the quality of the coaches,” Moser said. “The greatest risk is the quality of coaches.”