By Joan D. Warren

FALL RIVER — On Monday, January 15, balls were flying and the stands packed in the Shea Gymnasium at the former Bishop Connolly High School. 

CYO basketball players, their families, clergy, sisters and staff from the diocese gathered for the annual Knights of Columbus Council 12380 Free Throw Championship followed by a game between the “God’s Squad” and CYO All stars.

Age 9 to 11 Age Winners, From left: Ivan Antonio Rodrigues, Aubrey Aroujo, Isabella Ogunlesi, Jonathan Scott,  Jack Ouellette and Aleah Pavao.

Players, third through eighth grade from the greater Fall River and New Bedford area, competed to be free throw champs in their age group. Awards were given to those who made the most baskets from15 consecutive foul shots. (See picture of winners on page eight).

Following the shoot-out, many stayed for the first-ever religious versus CYO all-star game that was a nail biter until the last seconds of the game. The CYO All stars took home the trophy in the end.

The night was organized by Dioceses of Fall River Youth Minister Oscar Rivera. To raise awareness about vocations and discernment, the game was a representation to the youth to a deepen their Catholic identity and hopefully igniting holy vocations.

 The religious team, dubbed the God’s Squad, were a co-ed team made up of diocesan clergy and two sisters from the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin Matarà. Sister Mary of Calvary and Sister Mary of the Transfiguration, who serve at St. Anthony of Padua in New Bedford, brought their “A” game, rebounding and scoring throughout the game.

The team was coached by retired Father Jay Maddock, a former Coyle High school basketball forward and CYO coordinator for 39 years.

Father Maddock ran the program from 1982 until his retirement in 2021.

The coed CYO All star team represented players from 39 teams in the league. There are currently 380 players this season with 25 boys teams and 14 girls teams.

Matt Bednarz, the current CYO Coordinator, said the program is running well thanks to parent, teacher and school volunteers. This was the first year the Free Throw Championship was held at Bishop Connolly.

“We play at Sullivan-McCarrick CYO Center on Anawan Street. This space is more conducive to the amount of people we have. The parking is much better,” he said.

Age 12 to 14 winners From left: Emmy Guthrie, Sean Trendowski, Rashad Williams, Madison Bednarz and Jacob Antonio. 

The game, consisting of four 8-minute periods (the same as regulation for eighth grade play), was filled with cheers from the stands.

“Go Father Jay” and “God’s Squad, God’s Squad” were chanted throughout the game as both teams ran up and down the court.

The All stars had some great shots with plenty of 3-pointers, but the religious team didn’t let the younger players run away with the game.

God’s Squad took the lead late in the 4 th quarter making it 41-40. A foul, however, was committed by the God’s Squad at the buzzer, which gave the CYO All stars a chance for the win by two free throw shots. CYO All stars made the first one, tying the score at 41. The second shot was taken, which bounced off the rim and went in. The final score was 42-41 for the CYO All-Stars.

Rivera gave play-by-play commentary during the game and was happy to observe the crowd.

“Often young people of the faith think that their priest and the sisters that serve their parishes do nothing outside of Mass and CCD. But on this day, they saw that is simply not true. The smiles and amazement on their faces communicated the similarities they share and that priest and religious are just like them, ” Rivera said.