Amateur Sports: Roman Catholic Soccer Coach Chronicles His Team’s Last Year

Raymond DeStephanis (center) speaks to the parents during Roman Catholic soccer game. (Courtesy Raymond DeStephanis/Roman Catholic)

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across all industries, especially in professional sports. Teams have had to shut competitors and fans out of their arenas, leading to smaller revenues and even lower profits than usual.

Youth sports have felt the effects of COVID-19 as well. Seasons had to be locked down for the safety of the public, even though the only people in attendance were typically athletes’ family members. Teenagers suddenly found themselves at home with no outlet to relieve their energy.

Raymond DeStephanis, the coach of Roman Catholic High School’s boy’s soccer program, knows what his players and their parents have had to deal with. His children, Patrick, 12, and Keira, 9, both play for club teams that have had interrupted seasons.

The feeling of optimism has been growing in the first quarter of 2021. DeStephanis is hopeful that his team will be back in action fully by the fall.

What has the past year been like for your team?

So, you know, we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of COVID, and everything kind of shut down last March. In the spring, we didn’t do much. So, it didn’t really affect us initially. In May, we start prepping for our summer leagues that we do, and so naturally, both of them got shut down. The varsity plays out at Penn Charter High School, and the two younger teams I would run, which would include obviously younger players at Roman and then incoming freshmen that would be considered Roman students, come the middle of June. 

We, as a Roman soccer staff, decided we’re just not going to do anything, we’re going to ride it out. I believe football did certain things that you were allowed: skill, workout, weight room stuff. You had to turn in a plan with our athletic director, Roman and him looked at everything, then they had to turn it into the archdiocese who then approved, yea or nay. I’m sure basketball probably did some stuff. I don’t know that anyone else did at Roman. I do know other schools that we play in the Catholic league were doing workouts all summer.

When you found out that the Catholic League was not starting its fall season on time, what was your reaction?

I guess it was July at some point, it could have been in early August. You know, we get confirmation, we’re not starting like usual, so no problem, parents were great. We just continued being safe, that type of thing, let your kids do their own thing. School starts, so it’s a little different, obviously, we’re not in the middle of the season.

How’d you find out you were back in action?

The decision came at the end of September, boom, out of left field. “Hey, we’re starting back up sports,” the archdiocese announced. It threw everyone off because I used to say Philadelphia was in more of a lockdown mode than Montgomery and Delaware County. So, you know, we had to scramble. It was a Friday when that kind of broke. We met with Roman on Tuesday.

How did parents react?

The parents were fantastic and on board. Naturally. They wanted their kids to play. They want their kids to have, you know, a season. They all helped with the carpool. And we got everyone up there every day. The kids coming from home, they all carpooled to get themselves. We practiced with no problems. 

How many games did you end up playing?

Most people, quote-unquote experts, would be like, “Oh, you’re only gonna have five games this year.” We had 11 for varsity. I had 13 scheduled. The last week, Roman Catholic just had too many cases as a whole. And the Philadelphia Department of Health made them go virtual for two weeks. So we lost our last games because of that. It wasn’t anyone from soccer. It was just the school in general. JV got eight games in, they lost five games for that last week. So they took a little bit bigger of a hit.

That Friday that you found out that you were playing, how does organizing everything work?

So it’s actually crazy because the archdiocese announced it over social media before they walked into the meeting with their presidents and principals. One of the girls’ schools that morning just announced they were going on two-week closure because of COVID cases. And then boom, you have the archdiocese announcing, “Yes, we’re going to allow our teams to play yet.” I’m friends with some others at other schools. They’re like, “We were blindsided going into that meeting that we’re thinking we’re going in, like, you know, OK, this school got hit with COVID, what are we doing better to make things safer for the kids?”

It was a long weekend where it really was more of a pause situation. And yeah, my mind, I’m trying to figure out if we can do this. So Monday, I’m able to hit Matt, my aid, boom, boom, boom, boom. So now we can look into what we can or can’t do. And it seemed all weekend, we were going to play. But then it seemed on Monday that we weren’t going to play because the seven Philadelphia schools got together and had to think of the safety of the whole entire school, not just of soccer and football. So you’re like, ah, this kinda really does stink. But I know we can make this work. I’m saying this, I’ve done some of my digging already. And I know we can make this work.

So, you’re on both sides of the spectrum with being a parent of two soccer-playing kids and a coach of high school students. What’s that like?

I think because I have the kids doing it, it helped me be a little bit more clearheaded about the Roman aspect and not just think of it from a coach’s hat. Understanding since I have my own kids, my own wife, you know, what 40 other families are going to be going through with mindsets and trying to put them at ease. You go back to last April, my kids play for Palumbo Soccer Club down here in South Philly and they right away started Zoom training every day with the club.

DeStephanis is excited for his team to get back on the pitch in short order, as Philadelphia begins to lift its lockdown restrictions due to the vaccine rollout. He hopes that by fall 2021, they’ll be able to compete without the pandemic looming over his team’s head.

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