November 10, 2017
A group of Catholic Youth Organization football coaches are thumbing their noses at an archdiocesan order to include a suburban team in postseason play.
Three Bucksmont Conference playoff teams are refusing to play Visitation B.V.M., which went undefeated in the regular season, outscoring its opponents, 230-48.
The coaches of those teams – the Buxmont Saints in Warminster, the St. John Crusaders in Glenside and the St. Agnes and Sacred Heart (SASH) Knights in Hilltown – claim Visitation in Eagleville has played ineligible players on its varsity squad this season.
"All three teams were contacted," said Chris McCune, CYO football coordinator. "All three teams, after consulting with their pastors, have refused to play a game against them."
Following an investigation of the claims, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's central administration determined that six varsity Visitation players did not meet registration and/or residency requirements, according to archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin.
Like other teams in the conference, Visitation draws players from multiple parishes and Catholic grade schools assigned to its program. Participating youth must meet eligibility requirements based, primarily, on parish registration and place of residence. The varsity squads include players in grades 7 and 8.
When the CYO board released the initial postseason bracket last month, Visitation was excluded.
But the team appealed to the archdiocese, which ruled on Wednesday that Visitation must be included in postseason play – and that the ineligible players can take the field.
"That decision was made in the spirit of fairness to the young people," Gavin said, noting the archdiocese was only recently alerted to the roster irregularities. "It was determined that the roster violations were not their fault and they have played together all year."
Rosters are maintained at the local level and those administering the program locally are relied upon to ensure compliance with rules and regulations, Gavin said. The matter will be further examined following the completion of the playoffs.
But rival coaches countered the decision from above by stating their refusal to play Visitation, arguing that CYO has rules in place for a reason.
"It's certainly a shame that grown men will act that way. We'll be there ready to play. If no one shows up, no one shows up." – Tim Young, Visitation BVM football coach
"This is blatant," said Buxmont coach Joe Meehan said. "These aren't accidents. These are guys going out of their way to put an all-star team together just to win and hurt the integrity of CYO football."
Jim Hotham, coach of Saint Agnes and Sacred Heart (SASH), also stood by the CYO board's initial decision to exclude Visitation from the playoffs.
"I take rules and regulations very seriously in my life and in sports," Hotham said. "The CYO board along with (CYO Director) Matt Hasher – all of them came out and said there are roster violations. ... I stand behind their ruling."
With these refusals, archdiocesan officials have been left to determine whether any action can – or will – be taken against teams who refuse to play against Visitation. No determination has yet been made, Gavin said.
In the meantime, Visitation coach Tim Young said his Gladiators will be ready to play.
"It's certainly a shame that grown men will act that way," Young said. "We'll be there ready to play. If no one shows up, no one shows up."
Young defended his team, saying Visitation's roster has remained unchanged since he submitted it before the start of the season. He questioned why it took the CYO board until the playoffs to rule his players ineligible. But he also defended the players' eligibility, saying their respective priests signed off on it.
"I don't decide where people go to church," Young said. "None of my kids have done anything different than anybody else does on any other team. The only thing is – my teams are better."
The CYO board examines team rosters every September to ensure that all players meet eligibility requirements, McCune said. Visitation's roster took considerable time, in part, because players are pulled from such a large geographical area.
Visitation draws players from Epiphany of Our Lord Church in Plymouth Meeting, Mother of Divine Providence in King of Prussia, Saint Helena Church in Blue Bell and three Norristown churches – Saint Teresa Avila, Saint Helena and Visitation.
"This has nothing to do with race. It's about teaching the kids that you don't win by cheating." – Joe Meehan, Buxmont football coach
"Typically, you only have four (parishes)," McCune said. "But with some of the consolidation, it expanded a bit. The kids in question are not from those (parishes)."
McCune said that while he has disqualified only one other team from the playoffs in his 12 years as director, it's not uncommon for coaches to question the rosters of other teams.
In this case, McCune allegedly authorized division commissioner Bob Kinkade to provide a copy of the Visitation roster to Meehan.
Meehan acknowledged that he raised questions about Visitation's roster after receiving a tip that the Gladiators might be using ineligible players. But McCune said he also received an inquiry from a Visitation parent voicing concerns about ineligible players on their son's own team.
"It's an unfortunate mess," McCune said. "That team would have had a good team regardless. Those coaches did a disservice. There's too many things ... that don't add up. Rather than give us a logical explanation, they've given us one story or another."
Young claims his roster has been more heavily scrutinized than others, alleging it is partly based on jealousy at the program's success.
Visitation has won two straight championships and looked to be gunning for a three-peat. A program that suffered through a lengthy winless streak not that long ago has turned things around.
But Young, who took the head coaching reins this year, also questioned whether the scrutiny was partly based on race – an allegation the archdiocese, league officials and coaches all vehemently refuted.
The league inquired about the eligibility of eight players, including the quarterback, initially listed on Visitation's roster, Young said. Two of them quit during the season and another was removed from the team for a reason unrelated to eligibility.
Six of those players are minorities – and Visitation only had seven minority players on its roster, Young said.
"I absolutely think it's racially motivated," Young said. "The kids on the list are basically every minority on my team with the exception of one. As you can see, there's not a lot of minorities on my team. ... I don't know how else you could picture it."
The archdiocese explicitly denied race played a role in deeming any of the players ineligible, saying the matter centered on parish registration and residence.
"Let me be abundantly clear," Gavin said. "Racism is a vile and evil sin. As Catholics, we believe that treating our fellow human beings with dignity, charity and respect is essential. Race was not a factor in determining whether or not a player was eligible for the team."
McCune echoed that, saying he has not seen Visitation play and did not know whether players in question are "white, black or Hispanic." He heads a league that includes teams composed of various racial demographics.
"I don't understand this, at all, from that lens," McCune said. "There's no credence."
It is unclear whether Visitation's CYO leadership supported Young's racial claims when making its appeal. Fran Greek, the adult adviser, did not respond to messages seeking comment, nor did Visitation's pastor, the Rev. Terence Weik.
But Rueben White and Byron Hopkins, parents of players whose eligibility was questioned, also wondered whether race was at play.
"It just seems like all the black kids are being singled out," Hopkins said. "That's just not good. My son has played in other leagues. I've seen politics, but not on this scale. It's just really shocking and disappointing, to say the least."
White, who suggested envy might be mixed with racism, said the opposing coaches are acting cowardly.
"It's a shame that you're teaching your kids not to compete," White said. "You're teaching your kids to have an entitlement attitude. It's not right. To say they don't want to play against us is ... a real cowardly act."
But Meehan said CYO sports aim to teach youth that there is more to life than winning. And that, he said, is what the opposing coaches are doing by refusing to play Visitation.
"This has nothing to do with race," Meehan said. "It's about teaching the kids that you don't win by cheating. There are kids on that team that know there are kids that shouldn't be there."
With the coaches refusing to play Visitation, the rest of the postseason in doubt. There might not be a Bucksmont champion this year, McCune said.
"That's an unfortunate side effect," he said.