by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — But for a ruling on a leaky water balloon, Christ the King Parish youth group here might have walked away with the first Catholic Cup Games victory.
On Sept. 25, six Topeka Pastoral Region parish youth groups gathered on the grounds of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka to compete in various activities for the first-ever Catholic Cup Middle/High School Games.
The Christ the King group was racking up the cumulative points, said member Jensen Crawford, 16. The prize seemed nearly in their grasp.
“My team won the championships for volleyball and soccer, but lost on cornhole,” he said. “We ended up tying for the water balloon toss, although I personally thought we won.”
At issue was whether or not tosses with a leaking water balloon counted. The referee said they did. And thus, Christ the King and St. Bernard Parish in Wamego tied in the event, but St. Bernard won overall on cumulative points.
Ah, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.
Jensen congratulated St. Bernard on their effort, but he vowed to return next year. Does he want the Catholic Cup?
“Oh, yeah,” said Jensen.
The Catholic Cup was organized by the Topeka Region youth groups under the sponsorship of the archdiocesan youth office, said Jared Samson, director of faith formation for Hayden High School in Topeka and lead coordinator for the Topeka Region youth ministry.
“It was inspired by the Catholic Olympics held at the St. Isidore Catholic Student Center at Kansas State University in Manhattan, led by chaplain Father Gale Hammerschmidt,” said Samson.
Parishes that sent groups to the games were St. Bernard; Christ the King, Most Pure Heart of Mary and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Topeka; St. Therese, Richmond; and St. Aloysius in Meriden.
The event was held to promote three things, according to Samson.
First, the organizers wanted to help teens see that they are not alone in following Jesus. Their peers in other parishes are walking the same path.
Second, they wanted the kids to have some fun competition in a faith-centered environment. This would encourage the teens to continue their involvement in their youth group.
And third, they wanted to build community among the youth group members — both within the individual groups and between groups from different parishes.
Participants scored points for each team or individual event. The parish with the most points at the end of the competition won the Catholic Cup. The events included gaga ball, poetry, wheelbarrow race, volleyball, rosary making, standing long jump, cornhole, chess, soccer, the three-legged race and the unintentionally controversial water balloon toss.
It was a small event for this first year, with only about 50 people attending, said Samson. He believes it will grow because it gained participants while the event was underway.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to promote it,” said Samson. “Some youths didn’t come to the event [initially] but their friends called them halfway through and told how much fun they were having, so they showed up. I think some of them weren’t sure what it was.”
Not only did the middle school and high school youths participate, but also youth group adult leaders and a couple of pastors — Father Nathan Haverland, pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish, and Father Thomas Maddock, associate pastor of Christ the King Parish.
Crawford was impressed by Father Maddock’s competitive spirit.
“He’s a very competitive guy,” he said. “He wanted to win as much as I did.”
Joanna Crawford, mother of Jensen and director of youth ministry at Christ the King, thought the Catholic Cup went really well for its first year.
“I know some of the youth group leaders were impressed and surprised by how many kids came out,” she said. “I think the kids are hungry for events like this. I know my group particularly loves to have these off-the-wall kind of events — having something new and unexpected each time. I think the only issue was scheduling problems, something already in their calendar they can’t miss, but the will and the want to come is there.”
Samson thought the kids had fun and it got them away from the screens of their electronic devices.
“They were laughing and running around,” he said. “Especially after COVID, I’ve seen fewer opportunities for teens to run around and be active, especially because I know it’s fairly common [for them] to be absorbed in video games instead of having some quality time with friends.”
Samson is already planning changes and improvements for next year. These include pre-event team brackets, a better explanation of the point system, a smoother schedule so events aren’t going on at the same time and a grander awards ceremony.