August 25, 2023

As he retires as CYO’s leader, Scifres pursues new goal to impact coaches, youths

The Scifres family members are all smiles as they pose for a photo. Caleb, left, Bruce and Luke are in the front row while Abby, left, Jackie and Meggie form the back row. (Submitted photo)

The Scifres family members are all smiles as they pose for a photo. Caleb, left, Bruce and Luke are in the front row while Abby, left, Jackie and Meggie form the back row. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The desire to have an impact on even more young lives came in a moment of prayer and inspiration for Bruce Scifres.

For 27 years, he had been the head coach of the football team at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, leading a program that stressed the foundations of faith, character and a Catholic education while earning seven state championships in his tenure.

Yet after Roncalli’s undefeated, championship season in 2016, Scifres embraced the opportunity to influence more young people in 2017 by becoming the executive director of the archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO)—which each year draws about 20,000 children and youths from across central and southern Indiana in such areas as sports, music, chess and Camp Rancho Framasa in Brown County.

“A key thing that led to me leaving Roncalli and coming to CYO was a coaching retreat I attended around 2015,” Scifres recalls. “One of the things they had us do was to write a personal mission statement about why we coach. They said to write two sentences. The first sentence focused on between now and the next five years. The second sentence focused on beyond five years, for the rest of your life.

“The basic mission statement for me was something like, ‘I want to live my life in a way to make my wife, my children, my family and God proud.’ And the second piece was, ‘I want to make it to heaven, and to take as many people with me as I can along the way.’ I felt that was my mission in life.

“After I had written that, I kept it posted on my office wall at school. And when I heard Ed Tinder was retiring, I just discerned and prayed. In what other capacity could I personally serve more people than as the executive director of CYO? And that was really a deciding factor for me in retiring from teaching and coaching. I just thought it was an awesome way to reach a lot of people, hopefully in a positive way.”

Now 66, Scifres will retire as the CYO’s leader on Aug. 31, hoping to have an even greater impact on young people and coaches through a new faith-first ministry he is pursuing.

Jack Schmitz will succeed Scifres as the CYO’s executive director. (See a related story was published in the July 14 issue of The Criterion.)

In a lengthy conversation, Scifres talked about the impact the CYO has had on him, the ministry he plans to pursue, and the Catholic faith that’s at the heart of everything in his life.

Here is an edited version of that conversation with the father of four and the grandfather of one, including his response to one question that left him fighting back tears—and losing that battle.

Q. What will you remember most about leading the CYO?

A. “For sure, the best part of CYO is the people. Our office staff here and our camp staff are just amazing people. We work hard because there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but we love each other, we respect each other, we have fun. And through all that, I firmly believe we’re doing God’s work.

“We’re helping kids with wholesome, meaningful activities, and we also influence their families doing so. There’s the sense that we’re affecting thousands of lives every year in a very positive and impactful way, presenting opportunities for kids to do good things. My mantra here is the same one I had at Roncalli. Without question, our number one job is to help the young people we serve get to heaven. It’s been very rewarding doing that kind of work.”

Q. What led to your decision to retire?

A. “I’ve loved my time at CYO. It’s been an honor to work for the archdiocese. I’m a better person because of it. My faith life is stronger.

“I feel like I’ve done a lot of really good things here, but I feel there’s even a broader realm of people to influence. I’ve had some opportunities to speak with coaches, and I hope I’ve had a positive impact on them, but with all the other administrative duties that are included in the executive director’s role here, that was something I kind of missed—the daily interaction with coaches and athletes. After praying about it for several months and hitting full retirement age, I just thought I want that to be my passion project in retirement.”

Q. Talk about the new ministry you want to pursue in retirement.

A. “I’m looking to start what I call Beyond the Goal Line Sports Ministry. I look to put on conferences, workshops, retreats for coaches. Football guys commit themselves heart and soul to playing the game and crossing that goal line. And every sport has a goal like that. But when you’ve done that for the last time, what lies beyond that? All of us will play our last game eventually. And so, what kind of preparation do we receive from coaches and parents beyond that last game?

“I believe that our ultimate goal line sits at the pearly gates of heaven. That’s the final goal line we want to cross. If we believe that heaven is this wonderful place, where we get to spend eternity with God, then it doesn’t end there really. I think there’s two more questions we have to ask ourselves. Number one, if we are blessed to cross that final goal line, who are we taking with us? And what are we willing to do to make that happen? That’s the essence of Beyond the Goal Line.”

Q. Part of what you’ve always stressed is the ability that coaches have to transform lives. Talk about that in terms of Beyond the Goal Line.

A. “Research shows over and over again for athletes that next to a young person’s parents, so many times a coach is the next most influential adult in their life. And that influence can be both positive and negative. If a coach doesn’t have his priorities right, if he doesn’t see the big picture, it can be a very negative influence on young people.

“Recreational coaches teach a kid how to play a game. Transformational coaches teach a kid how to play a game and have fun, but way beyond that, they teach them how to be the person God created them to be—how to become better husbands and wives and parents and productive members of society. Coaches have such a wonderful platform to do that.”

Q. Talk about your own faith journey to eventually becoming a Catholic.

A. “I was raised a Christian for sure. Went to an interdenominational church, Camby Community Church. Mom and dad made sure we went to church every Sunday. That’s been good for me, too, to have an innate appreciation for different faith denominations.

“My wife, Jackie, was from a large Catholic family in Seymour. We got married in the Catholic Church in 1987, and then I came back to be the head coach at Roncalli in 1990. So I was teaching at a Catholic school, married to a Catholic gal, going to a Catholic church with her, and we committed that we were going to raise our children in the Catholic Church.

“A turning point for me was with Joe Hollowell, who I think had 11 kids and was president of Roncalli at the time. I always made the excuse I was too busy to go through the [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] process. Joe and I would talk about it. He said, ‘If you ever decide to take that step, I’d be honored to be your sponsor.’

“It was like a light switch went on for me. ‘For heaven’s sake, Bruce, you big knucklehead, you’re making this excuse that you don’t have time because you have four kids and you’re a head coach, and here’s a guy with 11 kids who says he’ll take the time if I’m interested.’ At that time, I had no more excuses to not become Catholic.”

Q. What does the Catholic faith mean to you?

A. “It becomes the core of who you are and how you’re going to live your life. Certainly, I believed in Jesus and God and heaven prior to becoming Catholic, but the Catholic faith for me kind of felt like coming home—to where you feel a part of a family.

“Gosh, at the end of the day, it’s like your compass, your moral compass. In our human condition, periodically we stray a little bit, but our faith always becomes the compass guiding us home—who we should be and how we should be. Ultimately, just as a compass magnetically points to the North Pole, I think our Catholic faith magnetically points us to heaven. That’s what we’re gravitating to. That’s what I’ve grown to love and appreciate about the Catholic faith.”

Q. What do you want to be remembered for? (The question that led him to try to fight back tears and lose that battle.)

A. “It’s hard to answer that without getting emotional. Maybe to be remembered as somebody who loved kids and loved his faith. And wanted to share that faith with kids and their families. Somebody who worked hard to make his family and God proud. And maybe somebody who worked hard to make it to heaven and take others with him.” †

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