Everyone in the Alfieri family of St. Pius X Parish is involved with sports — as players, a referee, recruiter and coaches. For the Alfieri kids, CYO was a way to love sports from the outset. (Courtesy Alfieri family)
Everyone in the Alfieri family of St. Pius X Parish is involved with sports — as players, a referee, recruiter and coaches. For the Alfieri kids, CYO was a way to love sports from the outset. (Courtesy Alfieri family)

For the Alfieri family of St. Pius X Parish in Northwest Portland, Catholic Youth Organization was a warm incubator for a life in sports.

Kelly and Phil Alfieri, themselves college athletes at Oregon State University in the 1980s, raised six children, all of whom joined CYO teams and now have gone on to higher levels in athletics.

“We always knew we wanted our kids in sports because of what it did for us individually,” said Kelly, who works in the athletics department at Valley Catholic in Beaverton and is athletic director for Valley Catholic’s CYO teams. “It made us grow as people.”

The couple saw their children learn to handle adversity and to value team over self. The youngsters identified goals and worked to achieve them. The parents felt proud when the kids lost and won with grace.

Sports offer big Catholic lessons, Kelly concluded.

The pair met in the weight room at Oregon State. Kelly specialized in the 400-meter hurdles and Phil was a linebacker. They wed in 1987, while still in college.

When kids came along, Phil didn’t push football, but the boys were drawn to it anyway. The couple had considered having the kids hold off on sports even until high school. But CYO came along and plans changed.

“We wanted to make sure that they played for the pure fun of the games,” said Kelly.

In addition to seeing to it that all their kids got to various games and meets all over the region, Kelly and Phil coached CYO teams, she in track and he in football. The carpooling schedule resembled the wiring diagram of a moon lander.

Now, more than a decade of Alfieri kids in local Catholic high school sports is about to come to an end.

Jami, a 2008 graduate of Jesuit High, was a CYO swimmer and basketball player. Now she’s assistant director of football administration for the PAC 12, a referee for high school football and a replay official for college football.

Nick, a 2010 Jesuit graduate, was on the Georgetown football squad and now plays in Germany. He also makes films.

Anthony, a 2012 graduate of Valley Catholic, is now a recruiting assistant for Oregon State University football.

Joey, who graduated from Jesuit in 2014, played football at Stanford and was considered for a linebacker spot on the roster of the New York Giants. 

Mikey, a 2016 Jesuit graduate, is a running back at Oregon State.

Andy, who graduates from Jesuit this year, has committed to play football for the University of California.

“CYO was my introduction into sports,” Anthony said from Reser Stadium while preparing to work an Aug. 30 Oregon State game. “It got me to love football.”

Anthony’s sixth grade football team, the Knights, won the CYO title, still a point of pride for him more than a decade later. He also played basketball and ran track.

“It was fun, a great time to hang out with friends and develop skills you carry into life,” he said. Among those skills, he explained, are teamwork, sportsmanship and perseverance.

“The community of it all is huge,” said Anthony.

The traditional prayer before games puts sports and life in perspective, he added. “It’s not all just about winning and losing, it’s about the community. At the end of the day we are all brothers and sisters.”

Joey entered CYO as a football player in third grade, with practices on the grounds of Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton. With a dad who played football and older brothers who played the game constantly in the yard or at the park, he was ready. After their practice, he and a couple pals would show up at the workouts of seventh and eighth graders, who let the younger boys join in where safe.

“The CYO culture creates an atmosphere where you could enjoy the sport and play for the fun of the game and play with your friends,” Joey said. “It was not a super high stress environment. I think it was really good.”

Riding to practices and games with the parents of other players helped Joey get to know other adults and see different families. “It brings you closer to the community,” he said. 

CYO makes it clear to a child that the game is to be played not for personal glory but for the team and, ultimately, for the glory of God, Joey explained. “It was not about just becoming the most athletic but about being the best teammate, the best sport.”

Those lessons stuck with him at Stanford and beyond. 

“There are lots of talented players, but the intangibles set you apart — your work ethic and how you respond to setbacks and what you do when no one is looking,” Joey said. “I think CYO sets you on the right path.”

Asked if they were competitive as children, the Alfieri boys just laugh, denoting how obvious the answer and how intense the rivalries.

At the same time, the Alfieri family avoided club sports that seemed designed mostly to cultivate superstars.

“CYO did lay the foundation for their love of sports and the desire to get better and the want to keep pursuing goals,” Kelly said. “I never recall them coming home and feeling disappointed in themselves. They walked away having learned something. CYO is about building better human beings.”

— Ed Langlois