“We must remember we are training for Heaven!” the kids at Frassati Sports Camp shout before charging into the day’s first session.
The summer sports camp is part of Frassati Sports and Adventure, a nonprofit organization founded by Our Lady of Lourdes vice principal Ryan O’Connor in January 2016. Though only in its second year, the basketball and soccer camps that ran July 17-21 and 24-28 drew a capacity of180 boys. They had a ton of fun, of course, but sports aren’t just fun; they instill valuable life skills, and are invaluable tools for discipleship, virtue formation and as the boys learned, sanctification.
“I learned that sports can help you become a saint,” one 6th grader said in a testimonial on the Frassati Sports website. “I used to just stand around on defense in both basketball in life, but now I know how to defend the hoop and my soul,” another 8th grader said.
“From the beginning until now, the Church has always been clear about what the great value in sport is in forming disciples and virtue formation,” O’Connor told the Denver Catholic.
Unfortunately, sports culture as a whole has become a far cry from this. Instead of focusing on character building and fostering those important values that sports teach so well, many athletes maintain a “win at all costs mentality,” O’Connor said.
“At best, it’s a wasted opportunity, and at its worst, rather than training for Heaven, it’s the opposite. I’ve always felt strongly about sports being a great tool for forming disciples,” he continued.
This is why O’Connor felt led to start Frassati Sports and Adventure. He named it after Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati because of the model he is to young boys and men in bringing their faith into athleticism.
“He’s a strong, young, cool athletic guy, [and] a fun-loving prankster,” O’Connor said. “Boys see such a separation in the culture [between] sports and faith life, [and] he is such a great example to bring them together.”
A typical day at Frassati Sports Camp starts with a prayer and a short introduction to the theme of the day. The theme ties into a particular skill they focus on that day; for example, on defense day, the theme is learning how to defend the soul in spiritual battle. The boys are assigned into teams, and after warm-up, they work on the skill through drills and practice. Then there is a breakout session during which O’Connor teaches catechesis. The day ends with a friendly contest between the teams and a short talk from a special guest speaker.
…There’s a correct way to thrive in life just like there’s a correct way to thrive as a basketball player.”
Among the speakers who offered their witness for this year’s camp were former Denver Nugget Bill Hanzlik, Varsity Catholic founder Thomas Wurtz, St. Rose of Lima pastor Father Nick Thompson, who played football for Central Michigan in college, and eight other Catholic former coaches and athletes who have participated in high-level sports. There is also a strong priestly presence at the camp, which included a special visit from Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.
“They … get the message that you can be a cool guy who loves sports and even played at a high level and also love Jesus and his Church,” O’Connor said.
One of the speakers, Joshua Karabinos, coached college basketball and now serves the Archdiocese of Denver as the executive director of strategy integration.
“I would suggest these camps to parents even if all they offered was fun, great coaching, done in a way that ensured safety, but what Ryan and the other contributors are doing here is much more special than just that,” Karabinos said of the camp. “They are providing an environment where the pursuit of virtue is understood and attractive and authentic Christian witness is provided in a way that gets young people’s attention.
“It’s a real bright spot for youth formation in the archdiocese.”
Each day, the boys wrap tape around their wrists and write names of people they’re offering up the trials they face in camp as a way to bring prayer and spirituality into the game.
In an era inundated with technology and a strong temptation for boys to stay planted on the couch instead of engage in something active, sports are a way for them to become strong and strive for something more – both physically and spiritually.
“When we’re hungering and thirsting for something, it motivates us to overcome those feelings [of laziness and selfishness] and deny ourself,” O’Connor said. “All of the self-sacrifice, the teamwork, the solidarity, the discipline, the training our muscles to be stronger and act according to the rules of the game … we translate it to that’s the reason God gives us rules and [that] there’s a correct way to thrive in life just like there’s a correct way to thrive as a basketball player.”
As the program continues to grow, O’Connor hopes to expand it to include other sports like baseball. This fall, he will be holding two pre-season basketball clinics for boys in grades three through eight to “tune up their game and tune up their souls.”
For more information about Frassati Sports and Adventure, visit frassatisports.org. High school and college aged men are encouraged to sign up as volunteer camp counselors. The camp filled to capacity quickly this year, so parents are encouraged to sign up for alerts regarding next year’s camp.