Five ways to keep your young athlete safe

CO4KidsMargaret Ochoa is a former child dependency and neglect prosecutor who now facilitates Safe Environment Training for the Archdiocese of Denver. Margaret lives in the suburbs with her husband and three children.

As the Colorado Rockies kick off with Opening Day, local youth are gearing up for another season of spring sports such as baseball, soccer or softball. As parents, what can we do to protect them from potential abuse as we entrust them to a new group of strangers?

1. Learn all you can about the youth program and its policies with respect to child protection. Ask if coaches and parent volunteers must provide criminal background checks as a part of their jobs. Programs through Catholic schools do. If your child is participating in a neighborhood club, find out. If not, suggest it. While most predators do not have criminal histories, it would be horrific to find out after the fact that your child’s coach was a convict and you put him or her in harm’s way. You don’t want to regret not asking the question.

2. Ensure the adults that have access to your child are not violating your child’s physical, emotional and behavioral boundaries. No coach should be alone with your child where they cannot be seen or heard. Watch for adults who touch too much, or in places that are private to your child. There is a vast difference between an adult-child soccer game and a game of “dog pile on coach.” Refuse to allow your child to participate in such activities, and make sure the program is aware if a coach is engaging in these games.

3. Monitor texts and Internet communications to see who your child’s “friends” are. Don’t allow them to “friend” or “follow” anyone they don’t know in person, and examine communications between adults and your child. Tell your child you are watching their social media, then do it. Be observant of adults who regularly text or message your child.

4. Beware of adults who ridicule your rules or refuse to honor them. At best, they are being careless with your values. At worst, they are interested in driving a wedge between you and your child. “If you were my son, I’d let you watch an R-rated movie. I can’t believe your parents don’t trust you. You are so mature.” Due to their inability to appreciate risk, young people—especially adolescents—can be drawn to this type of adult.

5. Watch your child’s behavior. Are they suddenly disinterested in attending practice or games? Are they anxious about being around particular people? Remember that juveniles, women and married men commit sex crimes. Don’t presume your child is safe alone with people in these categories just because you perceive it unlikely they would victimize your child. Ask questions about why your son or daughter is anxious or uncomfortable. It could be pre-game jitters, but it could be that someone is pressuring him or her to engage in acts that make him uneasy.

> Free parenting classes

The Archdiocese of Denver offers free parenting classes in child abuse prevention in parishes each month called “Safe Environment Trainings” or “Called to Protect.” Find out more at www.archden.org/child-protection or call your parish office.

If you suspect abuse

Call the state child abuse and neglect hotline at 1-844-CO-4-KIDS

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.


Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.