By Jenelyn Russo     11/1/2016

Created to fill a need for young adults in the Orange County Catholic community, the Orange County Catholic Sports League (OCCSL), managed and run by the Diocese of Orange, is a ministry that provides an accessible and affordable means for local athletes to play organized recreational sports.

Getting its start nearly 10 years ago, the OCCSL is designed for both men and women ages 18-39 and connects local athletes through organized sports teams at participating parishes.

“It’s something fun, and it allows people to meet those who attend other parishes,” says OCCSL coordinator Karlo Campana. “We see the league as not only a way to play sports, but something that will help connect the parishes in Orange County.”

The league currently has co-ed teams participating in soccer and basketball and offers full seasons for both sports, including playoff rounds and team and player stat tracking.

With more than 180 players, soccer has been a part of the OCCSL since its inception and continues to be where the league sees its strongest participation.

From December to April, the OCCSL soccer teams play primarily on Saturday mornings and afternoons, utilizing the fields at St. Jeanne De Lestonnac School in Tustin.

With approximately nine teams, the league’s basketball season is held from August through November and plays its games on Saturday nights at the courts on the campus of Rosary Academy in Fullerton.

The cost for participation in the each of the soccer and basketball seasons is less than $100 per player ($70 for basketball, $92 for soccer). Keeping the cost affordable for the athletes is one way the OCCSL makes taking part in the league attractive to parishioners.

While teams from participating parishes compete against each other in league play, the OCCSL does take “free agents,” meaning athletes have the ability to join a team, whether their parish has a team in the league or not.

“Athletes don’t need to form an entire team in order to join the league,” says Campana. “Individual players are welcome to sign up to play as well.”

One unique aspect to playing in the OCCSL that the league has recently introduced is the ability to offer confession to participants when they attend their games. Campana says that the Diocese coordinates with the league to have a priest on site to serve as a chaplain on game days, allowing the athletes to have more options for confession outside of the times offered by each parish.

In addition to the soccer and basketball seasons, the OCCSL also offers a number of special events, where one-time participation is available in a variety of other sports and activities such as flag football, dodge ball, and roller-skating. The purpose of these events is multi-fold, and aims to reach parishioners who may not be familiar with the league, or who desire a lower-commitment way to participate in an organized sporting activity. These outreach events also look to connect those who don’t have a current church or parish.

“It’s a fun, casual environment that opens the door for those who may not be attending church, but are considering making that decision,” says Campana.

In looking ahead at goals for future growth of the OCCSL, Campana says that there are definite plans to add additional sports as demand and interest dictate, and he believes volleyball and softball teams may soon be added to the league.

The number of athletes in the league has steadily risen over the last several years, but in order to continue increasing participation in the OCCSL, Campana has some targeted areas in mind. One of Campana’s recent efforts has been to reach out to the Catholic high schools in the county by meeting with the schools’ athletic directors. His hopes are that once familiar with the league, graduates will consider the OCCSL as a possible place to continue to play sports even after they’ve wrapped up their high school careers.

“For athletes who have graduated from the local Catholic high schools and remain in the area, the league can be a great option for them to join a team and still play after their time on their high school team is finished,” says Campana.

Campana admits it has taken a while to get the word out about the league and feels that there are still many young adults in Orange County’s Catholic community who are not yet aware of the opportunities available through the OCCSL. With many parishes not yet participating, Campana hopes the ministry will increase its reach and continue to serve those young adults who have an interest in connecting with each other while playing sports.

“I’d like to see more players and teams from the parishes we don’t yet attract,” says Campana. “Overall, we desire to provide Catholic young adults a place where they can have fun, play sports in a competitive and healthy environment, and build community through our love for Jesus Christ.”