The Salvation Army offers many sports programs. In addition to helping build healthy minds and bodies, these activities help draw people and communities to Jesus Christ. Here are a few examples of such people and programs in the USA Eastern Territory.
LeBron’s Army Connection
Akron, Ohio—The story of NBA Hall of Famer Julius (Dr. J) Erving getting his hoops start at the Hempstead, N.Y., Corps is legendary.
But how many people know LeBron James, the current NBA superstar, once played in the gym at the Akron (Citadel), Ohio, Corps? It’s true.
In the early 2000s, James was part of an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team called the Northeast Ohio Shooting Stars.
The team’s story and success were so compelling a documentary was made called “More Than a Game.” The opening scene shows the Salvation Army’s gym in Akron.
In the film, Dru Jones II, team coach, refers to it as a “little gym with a linoleum floor on Maple Street.”
“This is where it started,” Jones says in the documentary, looking around the gym. “This is where we came together as a team.”
Jones said he happened to mention to a Salvation Army Advisory Board member his intention to coach the team and the man provided the gym.
“We let them use our gym and they practiced there on a regular basis,” says Major Frank Kirk, who was the corps officer.
Kirk said he would occasionally watch the team, but had no idea James would become a superstar.
“It surprised me,” Kirk said. “He was good, but he was also on a good team. He was obviously one of the go–to players. He did quite well.”
James, of course, went on to have a celebrated high school career (some of his games were broadcast on ESPN) and was drafted by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers out of high school.
His success continued in the NBA, where James won three Most Valuable Player awards and three NBA titles, the most recent being last year with the Cavaliers.
Hitting the target
Kittanning, Pa.—Hunting is almost second nature in these parts. Throw in the popularity of the “Hunger Games” movies and this corps has found the perfect target for youth outreach—archery.
Lieutenant Amber Joy Imhoff, corps officer at the Kittanning Worship & Service Center, said she offered archery classes in 2014 for ages 6–15. One class drew as many as 22 kids.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Imhoff said. “It’s a great way to reach kids whom we wouldn’t normally reach.
“Hunting is a big thing here in western Pennsylvania so a lot of parents send their kids. It’s pretty common around here for young kids to go hunting.”
The corps is one of several in the territory using the HisPins program (www.heartoftheoutdoors.org). The motto is “Youth Archery that Targets the Soul.”
The classes last an hour and meet for five weeks. Imhoff is a certified instructor.
Imhoff said classes all include a Bible lesson and prayer, along with archery. The spiritual metaphors are almost endless.
“In archery, when you miss the goal or the target you’re aiming for, it’s referred to in competition as ‘sinning,’ ” she said.
Other lessons teach how focus is important in keeping arrows on straight and narrow paths—just as in our spiritual lives.
“We have a lot of kids who come who don’t go to church anywhere. We talk to them about focusing on the marks God has set for us so our lives are aimed the right way.”
The corps owns 16 bows and plenty of arrows, thanks to $4,000 in Strikepoint funding.
Imhoff said the corps took the program into the local schools recently and also holds a summer mini–day camp.
In the absence of a gym, some of the shooting is done outside. But Imhoff makes use of the fellowship hall, which is just large enough.
“You don’t need a lot of space to reach out to people in unique ways,” she said. “Dream beyond what you think is possible and God will provide just enough space.”
Fore! It’s disc golf
Oregonia, Ohio—Matt Frye says he loves exposing the kids at Camp SWONEKY to disc golf, which is growing in popularity around the country.
“We have some kids who go home and they play all the time,” said Frye, who works in SWONEKY’s youth department. “To me that’s what camp is all about. It’s about exposing them to something positive they may have never known about and giving them another outlet to avoid getting in trouble.”
What exactly is disc golf? It’s similar to real golf, except instead of a ball, participants throw a Frisbee or some sort of disc. Making a basket, rather than sinking a ball into a cup, as in real golf, achieves each score. The low score wins.
Frye said the game is not the most popular at camp, “but quite a few kids really do enjoy it.”
Camp SWONEKY and Camp Tecumseh in New Jersey both have disc golf courses. Frye said The Salvation Army lets the public play at Camp SWONEKY.
“We’ve held tournaments here at camp for avid disc golf players and people who like to play more than recreationally,” Frye said.
Frye said he tries to engage the disc golfers when they come to the course.
“As a Christian, I see the disc golf community as a mission field,” Frye said.
“For a lot of people, disc golf is their church and the disc golf community is their community, so I see it as an opportunity to build relationships and be a positive influence in their lives.”
Getting their kicks
Pittsburgh, Pa.—Lieutenant Jonathan Lewis has always had a passion for the martial arts, which he now uses to influence the spiritual lives of kids at the Homewood Brushton Corps.
“It’s just about plugging the passion into the kingdom,” says Lewis, who has a black belt in karate and is the primary instructor.
Lewis started the martial arts program two years ago at the inner–city corps. Almost 25 kids come on Thursday nights to learn karate, jiu–jitsu, and judo and it’s proven to be a bridge to the corps.
“The majority of the kids who attend martial arts actually go to our church now,” Lewis said.
“The participants learn self–discipline, self–respect, and self–defense.
“We want the kids to be well rounded—physically and spiritually.”
The sessions open in prayer and then the kids practice strikes, blocks, and throws, Lewis said. Class ends with a devotion that is usually centered on the character of Jesus.
“At the end of the day, we tell them about Jesus.” Lewis said. “That’s our role. All roads lead to Jesus. We want them to grow and be like Him.”
Lewis said the program also involves a lot of Scripture, including Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Him who gives me strength), and 2 Timothy 1:7 (For God has not given us a spirit of fear …).
“They usually say Bible verses before going into their form,” Lewis said. “That’s how we keep it spiritual. At the end of the day, we want kids to grow into the character of Christ.
“It’s just another way for them to understand Scripture.”
The program seems to be working. Lewis said his students share their triumphs in areas such as self–discipline.
“They’ll tell me, ‘Lieutenant, some kid was messing with me on the bus, but I didn’t do anything.’ They knew they could actually hurt someone, but they were showing they are Christ–like,” Lewis said.
From the backyard to the NFL
Miami, Fl.—Brandon Doughty grew up in the Miami area. In those days, he threw a football around his backyard while pretending to be Dan Marino, the legendary quarterback for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
Doughty became a star quarterback at Western Kentucky University and set several school records. Last year, he was thrilled when the Dolphins picked him in the 7th round of the NFL draft.
Now a member of the team’s practice squad, Doughty is working hard and staying ready . He’s also remaining humble.
“It’s really easy in this business to say, ‘Look at me, me, me!’ I don’t think that’s the right way to do things,” Doughty says. “To be successful in this business, it should be ‘we, we, we—for the love of God.’”
In 2011 after the death of his grandfather, Doughty said he began attending church and found God.
“I just really dedicated myself to being a better person,” he said.
The results paid off on the football field, where Doughty excelled from 2013–15 as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.
“I owe that to God and God’s love,” he said. “God put so many people in my life who helped make me a better person. I truly don’t know where I’d be without God’s love and my faith.”
Doughty also is not ashamed of the Gospel.
“I’m really open with my faith,” he said. “I pray every single day. I read my Bible every single day. I put God first and it’s really worked out for me.
“Because of my success, I’ve been able to reach out to people, motivate them, and be an inspiration and a role model.”
Doughty promised to live a scandal–free life.
“I pride myself on being a role model to kids. I can impact so many people with God’s light and use the platform I’ve been given,” he said.