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Catholic Sports draws young adults for competition and community in Alexandria

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While some of the world’s best athletes compete in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics this month, Catholic young adults in the diocese are finding their own arena for sports and competition — and a healthy dose of faith and fellowship.

Catholic Sports, a Denver-based ministry founded in 2010, fosters community for young adults through recreation and faith-based activities. This year, the organization partnered with the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria to launch its first East Coast location with missionary Helena Briggs at the helm.

“We are trailblazing this new location,” said Briggs, a Front Royal native who joined Catholic Sports last year.

The ministry runs through “missionaries” who organize and promote the leagues in different cities, run the sporting events, host Bible studies and social activities, and support the young adult ministries of partnering parishes.

Missionary work is something Briggs has felt called to for some time.

During her senior year at Christendom College in Front Royal, where she was a varsity basketball and volleyball player, Briggs attended a couple of mission trips, including one to Honduras, which she described as a “life-changing experience.”

“I just really encountered God’s love in a way I never had before,” she said. “It was really there that I felt God tugging on my heart to be open to dedicating my life to mission work.”

After earning a degree in philosophy, she worked in a variety of jobs, including as an administrative assistant for a real estate agency, and nannying. Meanwhile, she continued to discern what God might be calling her to do. “I wanted to do some sort of mission work, but I didn’t know exactly what,” she said. “I think God really just kind of opened the doors to Catholic Sports.”

The first inkling came when a friend who had become a Catholic Sports missionary in Denver reached out to her about getting involved in the organization. But she felt daunted by the requirement to fundraise her entire income.

Later, “I had this moment of exasperation in front of the Blessed Sacrament,” Briggs said, where she surrendered everything to God. About 30 minutes later, her friend, who hadn’t reached out in months, texted her again about Catholic Sports.

“I just knew,” Briggs said. “This is where God wants me to be.”

Last August, Briggs traveled to Denver and attended a retreat with the other missionaries. Her application to Catholic Sports was accepted, and that’s when she was approached about working at the new Northern Virginia location.

After partnering with the basilica, Briggs moved from her hometown in Front Royal to Alexandria and began in earnest to spread word of the new league through networking, newsletters, and researching and attending in-person events. That’s how Peter Samson learned about Catholic Sports.

Last spring, Samson, 28, a parishioner at the basilica along with his wife, Rachel, attended a young adult brunch after Mass, where he met Briggs and learned about the new Catholic Sports league. It came at the perfect time. Earlier that week, Samson, who had recently moved to Alexandria from New York, saw people playing sports in a rec league and wondered aloud to Rachel how to find these leagues.

He signed up for volleyball in the casual division, which runs for eight weeks, and was placed on the free agent team. “The first game we all looked terrible,” he said, but the group of strangers hung out after the game and grew friendlier. They began to build chemistry on the court, too, going on to win third place. The entire team returned for the second round of volleyball, which runs through Aug. 29, and this time Rachel signed up too.

The people are “definitely why I returned the second time,” Samson said, “and plan to as long as I’m in the age bracket,” which is 18-39.

The league continues to grow. The first round had 93 people in 12 teams, including an entire team of non-Catholics who learned about the games through Facebook. Fewer than 40 percent of participants were parishioners of the basilica.

The second round of volleyball has 13 teams including two non-Catholic teams.

“The need that Catholic Sports tries to address is the growing amount of loneliness in our society these days among young adults,” said Briggs. “A lot of our ministry is about meeting people where they’re at.”

Every Sunday afternoon, Briggs arrives early to Founders Park in Alexandria to set up the three nets. As the players trickle in, she welcomes them, greeting people by name and meeting those she doesn’t know. After every game, the group heads to nearby Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub for more fellowship. But before every game, Briggs invites all to join in prayer, asking a volunteer to lead.

“(Prayer) sets a great tone to start it off as a reminder why we’re there,” said Samson. “That is something that really sets it apart for me from the other (leagues).”

Bartlett can be reached at meghan.bartlett@catholicherald.com.

Find out more

For more on the league, go to catholicsports.net.

For more on becoming a missionary, go to catholicsports.net/careers

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021