PROVIDENCE — The Catholic Athletic League (CAL) has been providing the Rhode Island Catholic community with safe, competitive youth sports programs since 1935. From basketball, soccer, volleyball and tennis, members of all Rhode Island’s parishes and Catholic schools have diverse sports teams to choose from.
Phil Shea has been involved with the CAL at St. Teresa’s Church in Pawtucket for over 20 years. For the first nine years he was solely Head Coach of St. Teresa Eagles basketball, and for the past 11 years he has also served as coordinator of the parish basketball program.
Shea has been an avid Boston sports fan for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Providence and attended La Salle Academy where he excelled at football and track. He began coaching basketball when his two sons were in third grade, and he hasn’t looked back since. He admitted “there is never a Sunday that I’m not at the gym coaching or watching the kids play during the season.”
Shea’s dedication to the St. Teresa’s CAL program has kept it thriving. St. Teresa plays in the parish division of the CAL and fielded six teams competing in an 11-game schedule this season. This winter, Shea had his most successful season as a coach to date, with his seventh and eighth grade boys team winning the state title, and advancing to the New England Tournament in New Hampshire.
The CAL is more than about layups and three pointers. The most important rules of this league include everybody playing, having fun and working hard. “My coaching philosophy is creating an environment where kids can improve throughout the whole season,” Shea said. “Kids can learn that hard work pays off through sports, and it can translate to the classroom.”
As the coordinator of the league, Shea also has a larger responsibility than just teaching basketball. He is responsible for ensuring that all the coaches in his parish are certified in the Diocese of Providence’s Safe Environment Training and receive a comprehensive background check every three years.
“The training has been very successful in my time at St. Teresa’s,” Shea said. “We haven’t seen any issues in my 20 years, or in my predecessor’s 20 years as coordinator. The training really opens your eyes and shows us how we can protect kids.”
The Diocese of Providence has been on the forefront of providing safety, justice and healing, not just in parishes themselves, but in all of the community activities the diocese offers. In 1993, the diocese established the Office of Compliance, which has been fully investigating all cases of abuse and reporting them to the Rhode Island State Police and the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office. This office developed the Safe Environment Training program to train all diocesan employees, members of the clergy and volunteers on proper boundaries, signs of abuse in children and their essential roles as mandatory reporters.
“I always have two coaches or another parent at practice for another layer of safety,” said Shea. “Over the past 20 years, the training has become more comprehensive.”
After serving two decades in the CAL program, the years often blur together, but a story from five years ago has stuck with him and encapsulates what the mantra of the Catholic Athletic league truly is. A developmentally challenged boy joined St. Teresa’s team and had not scored a single point all season. In the final game, Shea spoke with the opposing coach who had his players back off, allowing the developmentally challenged boy to score his first points. The gym went absolutely crazy.
“I am so grateful for the dedicated parents and fans who support us every season,” Shea said. “I am also excited for the future of St. Teresa’s CAL basketball program and the many more kids who will learn about basketball and the importance of working hard.”