Athletes and Officers
For many years, The Salvation Army has developed young people through sports ministry. Some of them have reached iconic status as internationally known athletes. David Robinson, Julius (Dr. J) Erving, LeBron James, DiKembe Mutombo, (NBA basketball), Emmitt Smith (NFL football), and Peter Norman (Olympic track and field) come to mind. Others have applied to other professions and vocations the discipline, character, and work ethic they’ve learned in the gym and on the ball field and basketball court.
In both urban and suburban environments, sports ministry has become a key component in the Salvation Army’s outreach to young people in the USA Eastern territory. Sports have served as a platform from which they have aspired to a higher calling. Through the salvation process, student athletes make the connection between sportsmanship, soldiership, and officership. They also see how having a team spirit can lead to receiving the Holy Spirit.
At the Army’s College for Officer Training (CFOT) in Suffern, N.Y., they call the process of making such connections “relational evangelism.” Cadets, administrators, and student athletes in the immediate community and as far as Manhattan have an opportunity to interact and establish ongoing relationships.
The program, which includes basketball, soccer, volleyball, and flag football, was the vision of Major David Davis, now Massachusetts divisional commander, Major Ronald Foreman, now Empire State divisional commander; and Robert Meitrott, CFOT director of sports ministry. Every year, it culminates with a sports gala, featuring an address from an outstanding athlete, award presentations, great food, and fellowship.
Last year’s guest was Melvin Adams, a Christian speaker and former member of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters. Although he experienced many difficulties in life, Adams eventually graduated from San Jose Christian College. He was named a two–time Division III All–American. He left the school as the all–time leader in points, field assists, and steals. Ultimately, he became a professional basketball player.
Today, Adams travels throughout the country, motivating people by sharing his life experiences. He is considered to be “one of the most dynamic youth speakers in the country,” posted a speakers’ bureau website. “It doesn’t matter where you come from,” said Adams. “It only matters where you’re going.”
Adams grew up short in stature (5’ 8”), in abject poverty, and was physically and emotionally abused by a father who “disappeared during a game of hide and seek and stayed hidden for the next 26 years,” said Adams.
He told his remarkable story to about 40 basketball, soccer, and volleyball players as well as CFOT staff and families. He also involved them in a variety of fun activities that included adults and children. Adams concluded his presentation by encouraging each person to boldly tell his or her story. “Whether you’re a quiet person or loud like me, there should be something about your life that draws people to Jesus Christ.”
This year, the sports ministry will sponsor a mini basketball tournament. It will include teams from CFOT; the Army’s Manhattan, N.Y., (Citadel) Corps in East Harlem; the Brooklyn, N.Y. (Bay Ridge) Corps; and the Stapleton, N.Y. Corps on Staten Island. “We’re trying to do a little mini tournament with the four of them,” said Meitrott. “On April 1, we’re going to do an all–day tournament. On May 17, the annual Sports Ministry Gala at the college will take place with a special guest, to be announced.”
by Warren L. Maye