The final buzzer sounds at the end of a tough round of competition.
Cheers come from around the ground as teams celebrate their victory with players shaking hands in congratulations, but also coming together in prayer.
This mix of sport and religion in a full-day of fun, fitness and faith celebrates its tenth anniversary as Catholic Youth Parramatta’s (CYP) LIFTED Sports Day.
“We feel really thrilled that it’s continued to grow and to be something to look forward to,” Briony Mowbray, former youth leader from St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith, told Catholic Outlook.
Briony, with her now-husband Jesse and his brother Keren and his wife Danni, who joined the team in 2012, were among the young adults that started the Sports Day, which was an initiative of the then-Nepean Deanery to connect with other youth groups on the back of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney.
“It’s gratifying that an event which we placed a lot of time, energy and commitment into has continued to be a draw card event for youth in the diocese,” Keren and Danni Mowbray added.
“What an exciting celebration, 10 years of youth, sport and Christ,” they said.
“In 2009, there was still a lot of excitement around after World Youth Day, and our young adults group [Flock 99 or The Flockers] really wanted to connect with others in our Nepean Deanery,” Briony explained.
“We had this idea that this [sports day] would be a way to bring the different youth groups from our deanery together but also to invite people who were not connected to the Catholic Church to something that was really accessible and fun and normal.
“[It was] a way for people that are outside the Church to hang out with a whole bunch of Catholics and have a really good time without it being too full on,” Briony said.
Our Lady of the Way Parish, Emu Plains, Padre Pio Parish, Glenmore Park and Holy Spirit Parish, St Clair were among the participants at the first Sports Day in 2009, with the event becoming bigger each year, and inviting parishes outside the deanery.
Keren said, “the aim was to bring all the youth together for annual events during the year to build relationships, faith and community that were further reaching than parish, but smaller and more intimate than diocese.”
“The Sports Day was conceived with the idea that sport has been an integral part of Australian and Catholic cultures and was a great, fun way to bring people together. Being passionate for sport but also for the church – it was a match made in heaven,” Danni added.
“[For] the first year, we went straight in, full-on. We bought the Nepean Deanery Sports Day Cup, we got soccer goals made and we thought ‘this is going to go forever.’ We were in it for the long haul from the start,” Briony said.
Each year, parish teams compete for the Nepean Deanery Sports Day Cup, which is given to the overall victors, but also the Holy Spirit Plate for good sportsmanship, which was introduced after a few years.
“We recognised that some of the teams that played were really great at sport and really competitive. We [also] recognised that in terms of our faith, in terms of who we are as Catholics, it’s not just about winning, it’s about playing and doing everything in the spirit of Christ,” Briony said.
“Coming along and participating, giving it your best shot and supporting each other was as valuable and as important as whoever ended up with the cup at the end of the day.”
Keren added, “[The Holy Spirit Plate] represented the team which played with the most inclusion, fairness, fun and encouragement of others during the whole day.
“We liked the idea as it could be any team – the winners, the team that hadn’t won a game all day, the biggest team, or smallest team, the most vocal or the most supportive and encouraging. It is about how you play, no matter if you win or lose,” he said.
Through the advice and support of The Flockers, Catholic Youth Parramatta took responsibility for the Sports Day in 2016, and it was renamed LIFTED Sports Day.
In its tenth year, young people from ‘veteran’ parishes such as Christ the King, North Rocks, St Bernadette’s Castle Hill and Holy Spirt, St Clair are joined by some brand new faces in St Paul the Apostle Parish, Winston Hills, Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton and a combined team of Sacred Heart, Mt Druitt South and the Parish of Richmond.
When asked what she thought drew people every year to the Sports Day, Briony says that the day is a chance to celebrate community.
“I think people love to celebrate together and I think we often do that really well as Catholics, but this way is just a bit different. Sport is such a great way for young people to get together and have fun. Even if you don’t play, you can enjoy the spirit of it all – come in team colours and cheer people on. There’s a certain energy and dynamism that comes with that,” Briony said.
“People see [the Sports Day] is a great opportunity to connect with other people that can come along and be part of [their youth group] and be part of that broader Church community that isn’t necessarily the ‘going to Mass on a Sunday’ Church community.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a bit different and appeals to different people,” she said.
And what do the Flockers hope the future of the sports day looks like?
Danni said, “the day has always relied heavily on the community to be a success. Bringing it together with the help of family, friends and lots of volunteers, no task was ever too big and it was always worth the pleasure as it resulted in a successful and enjoyable day for all, including those running it.
“It’s very humbling to see the hard work and passion that went into organising not just the first but each subsequent Sports Day continue to be appreciated, shown in the number of people who want to participate each year and the number of teams who have been back to compete on numerous occasions,” she added.
Keren explained, “we hope that it will be able to continue for many years to come and impact a whole new generation of youth coming through our parishes.
“We hope that CYP, along with the deaneries and parishes of the diocese, will be able to formulate a way to expand the day, should the interest in the event continue to grow each year.
“We hope it continues to foster the idea that great things can be achieved when we are working together in unity,” he said.
“Even from day one, we hoped and wanted it to be something that would live on beyond our time as youth and young adults,” Briony said.
“We hope that the sports day continues to grow and is something that is a point of access for people not necessarily in the Church; a chance for the youth groups to get together and be proud of who they are as a little community and then also as part of the broader diocesan Catholic community.
“We’re really thankful that the Sports Day has continued on and CYP has taken it up. We feel pretty overwhelmed that it continues to grow beyond what we could ever possibly imagine that it would be.
“I think that’s got to be the grace of God – I don’t think you can put it down to anything else a part from Him working and doing His stuff,” Briony said.
The CYP LIFTED Sports Day will be held on Sunday 24 November at Parramatta Marist High School, Westmead.