Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil’s vision of giving young people a healthy and positive outlet through sports and the Catholic Youth Organization continues today through the sponsorship of Maryville Academy. The agency, which was founded in 1882 to help and house orphaned children, took over sponsorship of the CYO in 1992 at the request of the Archdiocese of Chicago. “Maryville’s mission is about protecting children,” said Franciscan Sister Catherine Ryan, Maryville’s executive director. “CYO is a wonderful way for young people to be safe, to learn, to develop, to have healthy relationships with other youth and with adults so we are very grateful that the archdiocese has given us the opportunity to sponsor CYO.” About 3,000 youth participate in CYO every year in sports such as basketball, track and field and cheerleading. Ryan hopes that number will increase. “We really want to expand CYO and make it available to neighborhoods that don’t have that opportunity for athletics,” Sister Catherine said. “We really would like to make the programs more available particularly in the summer when the children don’t have the school activities. Many people involved in CYO today participated as children. That includes Kim Williams, CYO’s athletic director. Williams was born with a collapsed lung and a malformed foot. Williams said her mother, who loved sports as a child, wanted to make sure she had the chance to play sports with other children. “When I look at kids, I look at them through my eyes when I had a brace on my leg. All kids want to play,” said Williams, who joined CYO as a staff member in 1987. “It doesn’t matter what color they are or what their background is. You put a ball out there and they’re all going to be drawn to it. It’s how you help them process their skill level and how they work with each other.” Over the years CYO has changed, as Catholic elementary and high schools began to sponsor their own sports teams. “When I was a participant the only grade school sports that existed were through CYO,” Williams said. “You didn’t have to go to the school, you could be a parishioner and participate.” That’s not the case with many school sports today, she said. When she was a participant, only Catholic children and youth who attended a parish or school could participate. Williams changed that requirement in 1992 when she became CYO athletic director. “Kids are kids to me, and that’s when I started bringing everybody in,” she said. “If you’re a kid and meet the age requirement — why not let them play?” All of Maryville’s programs are open to children of all denominations. While CYO sports are open to all elementary and high school students, each sport is different. “For example, for basketball, I run a high school league for kids who got cut from their high school team, or didn’t make it or chose not to play,” Williams said. Fifty-two teams participate in the high school leagues that run over winter and spring months. “A lot of the kids play all four years of high school,” she said. “It’s their opportunity to play a sport that they love but they might not be good enough to play on the high school level.” Last year, CYO started a wellness program at Catholic Charities’ Tolton Center in the city’s Austin neighborhood, which includes yoga, meditation and interval fitness training. It also began offering open gym sessions in Austin during the summer for boys and girls ages 8 to 18 as part of an anti-violence initiative. “We originally wanted it to be a year-round program, but it’s been difficult because in a lot of the high-crime areas parents don’t want their kids to come after dark,” Williams said. During the open gyms, younger kids came in the morning and the older ones in the afternoon. “What was great about this summer was that the high school kids started coming earlier to work with the elementary kids. Then we had mentoring happening without planning it,” she said. “That was really great.” Last summer Maryville received a grant from the archdiocese’s Instruments of Peace Fund to help support its CYO program. The fund was established by Cardinal Cupich to support peace-building efforts across Chicagoland. Even though it may look different, the original mission of CYO is the same. “Bishop Sheil’s mission was to help at-risk youth,” Williams said. “For me, the mission of CYO is sports for everyone. It should not be based on gender or age or class or any of that. Any kid should have a God-given right to participate in athletics.” In today’s world where children turn to their phones for play, Williams wants them to get moving. “I want them to get out there and play a little bit because that’s what is going to keep them healthy.” To learn more about CYO, visit maryvilleacademy.org.