According to Abaco Church Sports Association President Everette Strachan, the idea for a church league for young people developed out of a Round Robin Basketball Tournament for men that was held in May 2013.
Although Pastor Stephen Knowles of Strong Tower Community Church was first appointed vice president because of his great responsibility as the president of the Abaco Christian Council, the role was then shared between Cubell Davis Jr. and Ishmael “Stretch” Morley, who also serves as the public relations officer. Gilbert Davis in charge of the league’s referees, Davis Jr. is also the treasurer, and Karen Rolle is the secretary.
All of the members agreed that the church league was a good idea to attract young men to a positive environment, and Strachan said that at least eight teams are a part of the league.
“It is for the entire island of Abaco from Sandy Point in the south to Crown Haven in the north,” Strachan shared. “It is all about giving young men a positive environment and nurturing and bringing forth the talent that they all possess.
“There were up to 200 young men strong at the tournaments with four categories: 12 and under, 15 and under, 19 and under and open (over 20) categories. The old guards went out there and played three on three. I was never so painful in my life, but it was good to hang with the young men.”
Nearing the weekend of Sept. 6, they began to wind down the season with basketball championships at Zion Baptist Cathedral in Murphy Town. The 15 and under boys teams and 19 under boys were scheduled to play their games in Cooper’s Town that weekend.
Strachan added that the league consists of four disciplines, so next on the list is volleyball, then softball, and finally, track and field. He and Morley were enthused that several teams from communities in South Abaco to North Abaco have expressed interest in joining the league.
He emphasized that it is important to also talk with the youth and teach them discipline. Although there were rainy weather conditions throughout the summer, which was one the disadvantages of having an open court, both men were still extremely grateful for the time shared.
The association received support from community stakeholders like North Abaco MP Renardo Curry and Supt of Police Noel Curry, who spoke to the young men and attended the games. They also thanked the churches for their involvement and for partnering with the league.
“During the summer, everyone takes vacations, but some can’t, so it was a good thing for them to get involved,” Strachan observed. “There was a decline in young men on the streets because every evening you could find them at Zion playing ball.”
Morley said that it was actually the goal of the association to keep the young boys away from trouble therefore no one was arrested and taken to court.
“So far, we were successful to that end, and also it brought unity among the churches with the young people. They are from various denominations and all came together and participated in a good, fun, [and] clean sport,” Morley noted.
He said the league will be an ongoing exercise and with volleyball coming on stream, they expect the bulk of the teams to consist of females.
“We want to keep the camaraderie amongst the churches,” Morley said, “and in January, we will take a break and have a meeting to assess what we did right and what we did wrong to make adjustments before we start up in May.”
When the track and field season ends, Morley said there will be a banquet for athletes, organizers and the public to attend. It will be a formal event.
“It will give young people a different perspective; it is a formal affair. We are looking for some where to host the event and also find someone to cater to it,” Morley said. “Some good things are coming out of the church league, so we hope when we start up again, more people will be involved.
“The objective is to bring the youth together, so that they don’t get mixed up in unnecessary activities.”
Initially, players filled out an application form. Because they were intent on drumming up enthusiasm and support for the church league, no fee was charged to join.
However, there are rules that govern the league.
Gilbert Davis is one of the chairpersons for the Rules Committee, so he enforced the rules throughout the season. The rules state that players must attend church twice a month, and coaches are responsible for overseeing that. Teams are required to play four games to play in the playoffs, and they cannot jump from team to team.
“We have gone quite far in a short time, and I must give kudos to the board members because everything is volunteering, and they volunteer time, energy and efforts even down to their money just to ensure that these athletes have something positive to look forward to,” Strachan reflected. “I see it as a form of giving back to the community, and even though we may not see the immediate benefits, I’m sure we will be reaping the benefits in the communities of Murphy Town, Dundas Town, Marsh Harbour and indeed the Abacos as we go forward.”
Strachan noticed that the young men became very committed to the league, and on weekends when it would rain, they could be seen bailing water from the court area. Because New Vision Ministries and Zion Baptist Cathedral are the only churches that have full-court facilities, Strachan said that it will be good for other churches to get their facilities up to speed to so that they can also host games.
“They want to play ball, they want to play ball,” he repeated. “They want to get there, so whatever it takes to get the court ready, a lot of them are jumping in and assisting.”
Nevertheless, Strachan put forth a plea for church members to also find a way to assist. Consistently, he invites the congregation at Zion to come out and fellowship with the youth as a call to ministry. He said that adults are needed at the games to not only speak to the boys, but to help to keep order as well.
“They think it’s a youth thing, but we need to reach the youth. The harvest is ripe and ready, and the labourers need to come out to reap the harvest. We need to begin nurturing and talking and listening,” Strachan urged. “The players have to dress properly, and they pray before every game. We need people who can speak on different levels on different things. We are looking for professional ball players to come in and say something to these young men. We also need parents.”
As the church league continues to develop, Morley said they anticipate doing inter-island events with other church programs and having elections for the available positions. Until that time, though, they want to work out the kinks first.
“Even though we are the architects, we don’t want to turn over to someone who has no interest or commitment. We are getting the league down pack and saying: ‘This is what we envision.’”
Beyond sports, the association members are encouraging the young men to secure a good future for themselves.
“When you are dealing with young people, you have to have an open minded,” Morley continued. “Kids will respect you when you treat them fairly and treat them right. They only want you to hear them out, so we encourage them to pass their exams, get a high school diploma to get into college, and for jobs or a bank loan, they need to have a clean police record.”