When Ben Young first came to the Institute for G.O.D. one of his concerns was who he was going to play sports with. As an avid sports fan, he knew sports were a part of any good and healthy life, and had an expectation that it better be happening here! While studying at the Institute Ben joined in pick up leagues for soccer and basketball, and soon after received a job offer from Mid State Sports, a business partner of G.O.D. International.
Today, you’ll find Ben running Saturday soccer leagues in East Nashville, where three-quarters of the kids cannot afford to play. Mid State Youth Sports offers discounts to these players made possible through corporate sponsors, many of whom Ben accrued.
Getting kids to play sports, regardless of their economic background, is what’s in Ben’s heart, and when you learn his story--it’s no wonder. “When I was a kid I had the opportunity to play sports, but got a late start because there was nothing offered close to my home and my parents couldn’t drive me 20 minutes away to play in the league all my friends from school played in.” Now on the other side of years of sports involvement, he says, “I really want every kid to have the opportunity to participate in a well-run sports league in their own neighborhood, regardless of socioeconomic factors.”
Working at the East Nashville league acquainted Ben with kids in need in our own city. When there weren’t enough coaches, Ben stepped in for the 3-year-old team. When he showed up for practice he found that kids were dropped off without shoes, sometimes in pajamas. Then there are communication issues, which Ben noted as the most challenging of all. “It can be difficult to have the level of organization we would like because of how hard it is to get in touch with people. This is often times due to the fact that children stay with different family members from week to week, cell phones are turned off because they can’t pay their bill every month, or families don’t have computers or easy access to internet and email.”
When I talked with Ben during my son’s game on the Douglass Park field, I noticed right away that the kids he was playing against were small for their age, and English wasn’t their first language. It by no means kept them from having fun. I saw plenty of high fives, cheering coaches, and overall excitement during each match. “This whole team is from Syria,” Ben told me. “That one, Uganda, then Somalia. These teams are almost all refugees.”
One of the most inspiring people he’s met is Megan, who coaches 4 teams in Mid State’s Youth Sports’ division, all titled “The Nations.” Ben explained, “Half of the kids are from Syria. Megan decided to do this of her own volition. We gave them a huge discount, and she did a GoFundMe page to raise the rest. These are the kids that are getting scholarships.” He paused, “Watching these kids play is the best part of my week.”
He continued, “When I think about Matthew 19, when Jesus says ‘let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them,’ I get motivated. I love this verse in the context of our league here. I want it to be a place that children can come and participate in a safe, loving environment where they get to have fun, and just be kids. I want to provide the same quality fields, organization, pictures, trophies, uniforms, as they would get in a league elsewhere in Nashville, if they could pay for it. We get to be the ones who provide a hospitable environment for these kids who the world hasn’t made a place for.”
Soccer season is winding down in East Nashville. Fortunately, it’s always soccer season somewhere. Ben’s next task: an immersion trip to Uganda with G.O.D. Int’l where he has a special project planned. He’ll be facilitating a sports league for kids at St. John’s Primary--their first formal league. He’s spent the semester preparing for the opportunity. Ben’s had to think through how to prevent injury when kids play on a rough terrain, and medical facilities or funds are in short supply. He’s ready to train referees who can both understand the rules of the game and keep kids safe. He’s assessed what materials will be available to properly line the field (oil) and make sturdy goal (bamboo), as well as how to raise awareness and enthusiasm for the league.
Of this experience Ben foresees a lot of challenges, but says he is thankful for the education he’s received in God’s Word at the Institute. “It’s helped me have eyes to see potential where there seems to be no hope. I’m also thankful to have friends who have walked this path before me, and have been so willing to work with me and help me organize this league for the kids in Uganda. I hope that we can have a successful first run with the league -- that kids will have fun and be safe, and that parents and siblings can rest and enjoy watching -- just like here.”
With committed employees and unique opportunities fostered through the collaboration of G.O.D. Int’l and like-minded businesses--a lot of kids are getting the opportunity to play, that didn’t have a chance before. Because of that, no matter who wins the championship, we are all still winning.
Turns out, The Nations did win the championship, against an undefeated team.