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Sewickley Heights youth receives Spirit of Faith Award

Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School sophomore Cora Saftner, 15, practices with the St. James junior-junior varsity boys basketball team she helps coach at the school Friday, March 8, 2013. The Sewickley Heights resident was awarded the Spirit of Faith Award from the Department for Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

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By Joanne Barron
Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Basketball always has been part of life for Cora Saftner.

Since she was in third grade, the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School sophomore, 15, has played the sport in her Sewickley Heights backyard with her siblings and on the St. James Catholic School team.

And, this was her first year as a member of the Catholic Youth Ministry, or CYM, Diocesan League.

Although the season is over, she continues to be involved with the sport and pass along her knowledge and love of basketball as an assistant coach to St. James' junior-junior varsity boys team's third- and fourth-graders.

For her efforts, Cora was recognized with the Spirit of Faith Award from the Department for Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The award was presented at the CYM Championship Mass earlier this month at the Magdalen Chapel at La Roche College in McCandless.

The CYM league consists of teams representing different parishes throughout the diocese. Cora's team represents St. James.

Each year, the award is presented to one high school male and female player who participates in the CYM Diocesan League to recognize students' athletic accomplishments, as well as their ability to demonstrate Catholic values as they play the game.

For Cora, the award recognized her achievements as both a basketball player and coach, in addition to her prior experiences in volleyball, swimming and golf.

Her parents, Heather and Clay Saftner, nominated their daughter for the award, and her CYM coach Diane Sullivan wrote a letter of recommendation.

“Although Cora wasn't a starter this year, her positive attitude, encouragement of teammates and aggressive defensive play all contributed to her earning the award,” Heather said.

Cora said playing basketball has helped her to be a team player and not only learn from her own mistakes but help others learn from their mistakes, too. She has been coached by her father and also Lou Bolon.

“My dad taught me we are a team on and off the court, and you protect your teammates and stick with them always,” she said.

Heather said she is very proud of her daughter.

“I am so happy to see her efforts acknowledged and appreciated. I think it is a wonderful lesson for all those players who may not be touted as the ‘best player' to realize that they can still be a very integral part of any team. Cora always puts her team first and gives 100 percent when called upon to play. She also instills this in the players she coaches,” Heather said.

Cora said she wanted to help coach the boys basketball team because her little brother, Brock, was on the team the first year. When he moved up to the next level, she stayed on as an assistant coach because she already knew all the boys, she said. She and friend Hannah Renner of Sewickley Heights, a St. James graduate and sophomore at Quaker Valley High School, assist head coach Tim Goetze.

“Cora is just so many things,” said Valerie Tilson, parent of Jack, a fourth-grader who is on her team.

“She's become a mentor and coach that all of our kids look up to and look forward to having her help their team. She's moved on and up from our school, but she certainly still has an amazing presence when she is there coaching and motivating our kids.”

Cora said she loves seeing the boys' passion for the game — the same kind of passion she feels.

“I like to see them learn about the sport and grow as players and as people. I hope they carry what I taught them in the upper grades.”

She said the boys have helped her remember how simple the game can be and why she loves basketball so much.

“It doesn't have to be all stats and numbers. It can just be played for fun and the love of the sport. It doesn't matter how old or big you are, you can still the love sport,” she said.

Cora also is on the swim team at Allegheny Country Club in the summer, and in her spare time, she likes to play basketball in her yard with Brock, 10, and her four other siblings: Emma, 14; Luke, 12; James, 8; and Cale, 4.

She said she doesn't know yet what her career path will be — maybe a professional musician, journalist or marine biologist — but she does know she wants to continue with basketball, perhaps club basketball in college.

And, maybe, someday after college, she hopes to come back to St. James to coach again.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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