April 28, 2017

‘Faith and life became one’: CYO director nears the finish line after 46 years of serving children and families

Catholic Youth Organization director Ed Tinder poses for a photo with some of the participants in the Indianapolis North Deanery CYO track meet at Bishop Chatard High School on April 23. Tinder will be retiring in mid-June. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Catholic Youth Organization director Ed Tinder poses for a photo with some of the participants in the Indianapolis North Deanery CYO track meet at Bishop Chatard High School on April 23. Tinder will be retiring in mid-June. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Ed Tinder laughs sheepishly when he sums up his commitment to the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) in the archdiocese by sharing two realities involving his family:

He nearly missed the birth of one of his three children because of a CYO activity.

He also told each of his children to check the CYO calendar before scheduling their wedding date.

The longtime executive director of the CYO also makes this confession:

“I’ve always, in some strange way, enjoyed those situations when I get to deal with a coach, an official or a parent who’s gotten a little out of line because of the emotions that athletics bring,” says Tinder, a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, who has been part of the CYO staff since 1980 and its leader since 1984.

“Why is that? Because it becomes a teachable, coachable moment. Not that I want all hell to break loose out there, but it does happen. And it is an opportunity to talk to them about that experience—and how it relates to the overall purpose of what we’re all about.”

That combination of passion and purpose has marked the 46 years that Tinder has devoted to serving the children, youths and families of the archdiocese—the first nine years as a teacher and coach at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, followed by his 37 years with the CYO.

As the 68-year-old Tinder prepares to retire on June 16, The Criterion talked with him recently about his thoughts on the “tug of war” in youth sports, his advice to parents and coaches, his insights into why the CYO is so important to the archdiocese and the Church, and his joy in leading the organization.

Just as revealing, it was also a conversation in which Tinder quickly turned his thoughts to his wife of 43 years, Kathy.

Here is an edited version of that conversation.

Q. You’ve worked for the archdiocese since 1971. What has led you to devote these 46 years to young people, the archdiocese and the Catholic faith?

A. “I knew halfway through my college years that I wanted to get into teaching and coaching. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of anything else. I’ve been in Catholic schools virtually all my life, with the exception of my four years at Butler. It was a community I was familiar with, the people I’ve known all my life, and it was just a comfortable environment to be in and work in.

“I’ve always loved the mission beyond the logistics of teaching a subject and coaching a team. I’ve just always liked the human connectedness of it all. It was always about the relationships. And working in the Catholic Church, those relationships can be at a much deeper level than a secular environment. So it’s been natural for me.

“And I met Kathy while teaching at Roncalli. It’s not just been my job. Our whole existence as a married couple has been in the Catholic Church. Faith and life became one. If you added up her years teaching and my years in the archdiocese, it’s 89. It’s all we’ve ever known.”

Q. What are some of the best parts of leading the CYO for you?

A. “I’ve probably gotten more joy out of music contests and science fairs. I just love those events. And our camp is one of the most important ministries that we do here. That’s not to downgrade any of the others. There is just such a special relationship, again of touching people and having an impact on their lives.

“A lot of people think camp is all fun—horseback riding, archery, canoeing and the high-ropes challenge course. And it is a lot of fun. You meet a lot of new friends there. But everything we do down there is tied to a mission and a purpose. We view camp as a platform to reach kids in a more meaningful way. I’m probably more proud of our camp program than anything we’ve ever done—because I know the challenge that it has been.”

Q. As you look back on the 46 years, what are a few of the specific moments that stand out for you?

A. “I’ve enjoyed helping people and coaching people. I still think that what I do is teach and coach. You deal with all sorts of circumstances that take place in an athletic, competitive environment. Circumstances where emotions are brought to a level that only athletics can bring them. And sometimes people act in a way that is not normal for them.

“I always say regardless of most circumstances, tremendous good can come of it, depending upon how you handle it, especially in front of young kids. You know, for a coach to say in front of his team, ‘I was wrong. I tell you guys to never lose control of your emotions, to stay focused on what you have control over. And I lost control of my emotions. I deeply regret that. I apologize to you. We’re all human, but I will do my best that this never happens again.’

“That message in front of those kids sticks with them more than anything that coach can ever imagine.”

Q. You have mentioned that there’s a “tug of war” in youth sports. Talk about that, and CYO’s place in that tug of war.

A. “On one end of that rope is society and what they’re taught through the media. It’s what we as Americans are brought up to view what athletics are about—college scholarships, professional athletics, individualization, stand out from the crowd, make a name for yourself. It’s about who can do the best at those things.

“We’re on the other end of the rope. We’re pulling youth athletics to be a developmental opportunity for kids that’s so much broader than how much you score, how fast you run, how high you jump. We’re pulling it to be a platform of teaching Gospel messages. I know that’s kind of scary sometimes to coaches. Our job is to teach that it’s not as scary as it sounds—because Gospel messages are very simple. It’s how we should lead our lives.

“We’re pulling very hard this way. We don’t have all-star teams. We don’t have most valuable players. Our trophies are very, very modest. I saw—and this is the honest-to-gosh truth—a bunch of third‑graders who played in another basketball league, and they won a tournament and they got rings! Third‑graders!

“My point being we downplay athletics for athletic development reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe in keeping score. I believe there’s a lot to be learned, regardless of the outcome of the game, when kids know there’s something meaningful at stake. So we’re pulling on that end of the rope. We never ever are going to pull everybody on our side of the line. But you better never let go of that rope. Because when you do, it plays havoc trying to get it back.”

Q. What advice would you give to parents about their relationship with their children when it comes to sports?

A. “Love them. And be concerned and interested in what they’re doing. And show passion for what they’re doing. There’s nothing wrong with that. But be there for them—to guide them through the experiences that athletics naturally bring to the table.

“As a young kid, you’re perhaps going to grow up in an environment where you’re given everything. And as you go through life, that expectation continues with you. Athletics is going to put you in situations where every one of those experiences is going to be challenged. Maybe you’re not going to be the quarterback. You’re not going to be the best player. You’re going to be a role player. You’re going to win some games. You’re going to lose some big games.

“Maybe you’re not going to like the coach. Maybe you won’t like some of the kids on your team. There is going to be an unbelievable number of life experiences. And the coach, for whatever reason, is not always going to be able to shepherd them through those experiences. Every experience—good, bad and in between—they’ll need somebody who cares and loves them, and works with them through those experiences to ultimately be better people.”

Q. What advice would you give to coaches when it comes to working with the children and the youths they coach?

A. “Coaches worry about what parents think about them, worry about what kids think about them, worry about what they say in certain situations, worry about what play they call. They worry all the time.

“I tell the coaches that we have this huge program, with a tremendous number of teams in all these sports. We have 450 boys’ basketball teams. That’s a whole lot of coaches. Some of those coaches are going to win games. Some of them are going to lose games. But if your ultimate purpose is to just love those kids and care for those kids, you’re going to be a successful coach.

“I ask coaches, ‘Why are you involved in coaching? Go back to your days of playing in CYO. What coaches stand out most in your mind?’ Invariably, I can move them to the point where they say, ‘That guy was just a neat, enjoyable guy. He’d come up and put his arm around me and say, “You’re all right.” He’d just be an affirming coach who wanted to be there and cared about the kids.’

“Well, if that’s the thing that brought you into coaching, don’t you want to use those kinds of criteria to measure whether you are a success or not?”

Q. You’ve been blessed to lead a CYO staff that has made a remarkable commitment to the organization—Bernie Price has worked there for 43 years, Jerry Ross for 34 years, and Kevin and Angi Sullivan, the co-directors of Camp Rancho Framasa, have worked about a combined 60-plus years there. What’s it mean to you to lead this team?

A. “If someone can have two families, I have two families. I’ve just been very fortunate in finding people who recognized the reasons for doing what they’re doing. You have to be driven, driven, driven to help people. The activities we have are on evenings and weekends, and you have to be dedicated to this more than a usual job.

“One of the great joys of my life is being surrounded not just by staff, but by the number of board members who to me are some of the best Catholics this community has ever seen. The support of archdiocesan administrators has just been tremendous, too. I’ve just been so grateful and blessed.”

Q. Former Roncalli head football coach Bruce Scifres will be succeeding you as the executive director of the CYO in mid-June. What advice have you given him during this transition time?

A. “I tell him, ‘Be yourself.’ He has the exact attributes that will help make him be successful in this job. He genuinely likes people. And he has a tremendous, deep passion for helping kids. And that’s beyond the football field. That’s going to drive him to be successful.

“I told him to have a few goals the first year: Meet as many people as you can. Have conversations with them—because they need to know what you stand for. Also, listen and learn from the staff. And he’s very passionate about training coaches in coaching for Christ. I told him to use that passion.”

Q. When we began this conversation, the first person you mentioned was your wife, Kathy. Talk about what her support has meant as you’ve led the CYO?

A. “This is really kind of a lonely job. You’re on an island. That’s kind of odd to say when it’s such a people program. The decisions you make and having to deal with situations, you need somebody to be on that island with you. You need somebody to be with you through the tough times, and talk you down from the ledge—all the things a spouse is good at.

“I almost missed the birth of one of our children because of CYO. We have three married children, and I told each one of them to make sure you check the CYO calendar before you schedule the wedding. I hate that, but I was always supported at home. And I know she felt the same about her job. She’s a person who cares deeply about the kids and her job. And I’m the same way.”

Q. How do you view the CYO’s role in the archdiocese and the Church—and your role in leading the CYO?

A. “There is no ministry in the Catholic Church where more Catholic families are involved than in CYO. That is a responsibility that is huge. The archbishop and the archdiocesan administration count on us to lead this organization in a way that is a ministry of the Catholic Church.

“I always felt like I was given the keys to an archdiocesan treasure that was so very important. It’s been a blessing beyond what I ever imagined. I hope families know I tried to lead it in a way that was meaningful to their kids and to them. I just tried to do the best I could.”

Q. What are your retirement plans?

A. “I probably have as many apprehensions going into retirement as I am excited. I’m probably more nervous about it because I’m still driven by relationships and people. These things excite me because I have great joy and passion in what I do. And fulfilling that in retirement, I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to do that.

“And this is maybe a little bit on the egotistical side, but I fear irrelevancy. From the time I graduated college, I was in front of a class, I was in front of a team, I’ve been in administration. I like the opportunity to share my passion with the audience I’m talking to. That’s what I mean by relevancy. I’m a coach. I’m not going to have a team.

“I’m going to have to remain involved with the Catholic community somehow, because it’s really been my life. I want to give back in some way, and be involved in some way.” †

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