After Weathering Controversy, CYO Basketball Team Eyes Championship Game

CLARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A 5th grade basketball team in Union County, New Jersey recently found out what it means to be a team.

It was a lesson learned through a trying time, but their decision has brought them national attention.

As CBS2’s Steve Overmyer explained, the 5th grade team made up of boys and girls at St. John’s the Apostle learned at a young age what the word  ‘unity’ means.

“That means after all this we’re still together. The girls and the boys are still together,” Riley Ramirez said.

Citing a rule in the bylaws, the Catholic Youth Organization said girls weren’t allowed on boys teams. They were given an ultimatum — kick the girls off the team or forfeit. The coach left the decision up to the team.

“At first I felt like I was going to cry because I was so happy, and I was surprised that no one actually chose the other one. So that was a really good feeling for me,” Lilabelle DeCastro said.

The team has played together for years, and even if it meant forfeiting all of their games they would not stand to play without their teammates.

“To see the boys were willing to sacrifice their season because they didn’t want to split up — that just shows the love they have for each other,” Coach Mark DeCastro said. “As a father I was just speechless.”

Two weeks later — as the story gained national attention — the archdiocese reversed its decision and decided to let the girls play. The team was once again together.

It paid off.

In a playoff game the team needed a three pointer to tie. They once again looked defeat in the eye and didn’t blink.

St. John’s won the game in overtime and will now play in the championship game on Saturday.

“That was awesome. The whole season has been great. Mostly because they stood up for us, and then we thought we were going to have to forfeit our games, and we were disappointed. And then we rose back up to the top in the championship. So it’s been great,” Kayla Martel said.

The kids said since the story made national news they’ve received a ton of fan mail. One girl said she doesn’t know how celebrities deal with all the media — when she answers too many questions she gets a headache.

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