By LOU PONSI     6/7/2022

Diocese of Orange priests and seminarians will once again exchange their clerical collars for jerseys and shorts and return to the hardwood for their annual game of roundball.

After a three-year hiatus, the annual Priests vs. Seminarians Basketball game is taking place June 17, 2022 in the Meruelo Athletic Center at Mater Dei High School.

Food trucks will arrive at 5:30 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

The game gives the public a chance to see their priests and seminarians in a different light, without their vestments and outside of traditional religious settings, said Father Brandon Dang, who has played in all four Seminarians vs. Priests games and helped start the game in 2015.

“It’s an opportunity to have fellowship and to see priests and seminarians in a different setting from the altar at church,” said Fr. Dang, 33 who serves as the director of vocations for the Diocese of Orange and is in residence at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Irvine.

The game was held annually from 2015-2018. There was no game in 2019, due to administrative changes Fr. Dang said, and the COVID 19 virus caused the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 games.

“It was popular back then,” Fr. Dang said, “and people have continued to ask about it, so we are bringing in back.”

Fr. Dang, who played organized basketball in recreation leagues as a child and teenager growing up in Aliso Niguel, was a seminarian at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo when he was struck with the idea to start the game.

While a student at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park he and another seminarian found out about the annual “Revs vs. Sems” basketball game held in the Diocese of San Jose.

The game was held at Santa Clara University and drew large crowds, he said.

Fr. Dang brought the idea of starting a priests vs. seminarians game to the seminarians at St. John’s, who agreed such a game would be successful because of the popularity of sports in Orange County.

Initial attempts by another seminarian to organize the game were unsuccessful, Fr. Dang said.

He then met with the Diocese’s vocations director, who gave the game the green light.

The first game was played at the Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac School gymnasium in Tustin with Bishop Kevin Vann getting the contest started by tossing the ball in the air for the tipoff.

“We packed the place,” Fr. Dang said. “I think the capacity was 550 and we had over that show up.”

While the game is more about fun and fellowship than fundraising, the money from ticket sales goes towards supporting vocations in the Diocese.

The money raised in the 2015 game was used to help pay for the priests’ trip to see Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

The seminarians are riding a two game winning streak, but some of the players from the 2018 game are now priests and are switching sides, according to Seminarian Cole Buzon, who played in the 2017 and 2018 games.

What stands out most for Seminarian Buzon is the excitement surrounding the game, particularly the enthusiasm of the fans. Several fans wave super-large cutouts – known as fatheads – of their favorite players, Seminarian Buzon added.

“It was fun to see people cheering loudly, supporting their priests and seminarians,” he said.

The 2022 game has taken on a special meeting.

For starters, the game is being played for the first time in four years, but more importantly, the winner of this year’s game will take a lead in the overall series, which is tied at 2-2.

Priests vs. Seminarians basketball games or variations of them, have been taking place in Dioceses around the country for years.

The annual game in the Diocese of Phoenix pits the seminarians, the “Phoenix Sons,” against the priests, the “Church Fathers.”

At St. Teresa Catholic School in Conewago Township, Pennsylvania, the “God Squad,” a team of priests and seminarians, faces off against a team of eighth graders for the Crusader Cup.

In the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, the annual “Runnin’ with the Revs” game features priests and seminarians teaming up with middle and high school boys, and then divided into the Revs White Team and the Revs Black Team.

“The parishioners will definitely get to see how priests and seminarians get along with each other,” Seminarian Buzon said. “It will be cool for parishioners to see that side of priests and seminarians.”

For more information or to purchase tickets, go to: rcbo.org/basketball