As reported in the St. John Tradewinds: The Julius E. Sprauve School was not in session, but the Cruz Bay public school was warmed by children tossing footballs, kicking soccer balls and hitting tennis balls during the third annual Just Play Day on Monday, October 10.
Hosted by Using Sport For Social Change, Just Play is a free annual event which allows kids between the ages of two and 17 to compete in a safe and friendly environment. The day of games and entertainment is the premier event for USFSC and each year Just Play is a little more organized thanks to the organization’s founder Dean Doeling.
A senior production artist for Nike, Doeling was on vacation on St. John when he was inspired to find ways to improve the island’s athletic opportunities. Back home in Oregon, Doeling’s idea blossomed into USFSC and he organized the first Just Play Day back in 2009 with a small group of St. John parents. Each year, the event has grown in both participants and activities and Doeling has earned the support of an array of sponsors.
“We had a little over 120 kids take part which is on par with previous years,” said Doeling. “We had a good amount of volunteers again this year as well, about 60 to 70. In my opinion this year was very, very well organized.”
“It just keeps getting better and better,” he said. “The community support is just wonderful.I don’t know off-hand but we had more than 20 sponsors which is considerably more than previous years.” Doeling is guided by a common sense principle when organizing Just Play Day each year, he explained. “I’ve always been about taking what works and using it and fixing what doesn’t work,” said the USFSC founder. “I think this year we pretty much nailed it.”
While the event still saw children taking part in a number of activity stations, from a 50-yard dash to a basketball throw, judging only took place in the morning, allowing the students to take part in a sport of their choice during the afternoon.
Medals were awarded for different age groups for both boys and girls for each activity. Those scores were recorded during the morning session and tallied while the students reloaded on carbohydrates thanks to a catered pasta lunch by St. John Catering and Mathayom Private Chefs.
“For the second year in a row, Mathayom has done an amazing job not only with the food, but with doing it correctly and getting the kids through the line and fed,” said Doeling. “The food is always amazing and there is always enough for all of the kids and all of our volunteers. If it wasn’t for him, this event would sorely be lacking in sustenance.”
During the afternoon session, students were able to return to their favorite activity while listening to the Calypso sounds of King Fidel and the talented pan players in the Love City Pan Dragons.
“Doing it differently in terms of judging in the morning and having free time in the afternoon worked out really well,” said Doeling. Also new to Just Play Day this year was tennis. The activity was added to the day’s events thanks to Caneel Bay Resort’s Director of Tennis Donald Becker, who brought rackets and balls and led skills exercises along with Patrice Harley and Kazumi Schaub.
Judging from the popularity of the activity, tennis will be a permanent part of Just Play Day and the next Rafael Nadal just come be discovered on the Winston Wells ball field.
“It’s important for kids to be physically active and tennis a great sport,” said Becker. “It seems like the kids are really having fun so I’ll be back for sure.”
Doeling too has made a commitment to bring Just Play Day back again in 2012 for the fourth annual free community event.
“The amount of support that each of the businesses here on St. John and a lot of individuals too, have given us is just wonderful,” said Doeling. “It’s nice to know that I have the confidence of these people who believe that I will be back and I will put on a good show. I will be back indefinitely.”
Even after Just Play Day wrapped up, USFSC kept on giving. On Wednesday, October 12, Doeling visited all three island schools to donate the balls used at Just Play Day.
“What happens is I send down balls all through the year for groups who need them or they are put in storage for Just Play Day,” said Doeling. “After we use them, they all get dispersed to schools and Parks and Recreation.”
Looking ahead, USFSC will also be hosting its essay contest for the Tortola Surf Classic, paying for essay winners to travel to Tortola and take part in the surf competition in February, explained Doeling.
“The Tortola Surf Classic is February 17 and we’re going to do the essay contest again but it’s going to be better organized this year,” he said. “We’re going to start the competition earlier this year but we will not extend the deadline.”
Doeling is also hoping to partner with Friends of V.I. National Park to host a Just Swim event with the focus of improving water safety awareness.
“The idea originally was to do a weekend event covering water safety with toys and games and just getting kids in the water,” said Doeling. “It’s looking like this might be a kick off event for getting swimming lessons within the schools. We’re still working out logistics but there is a lot of interest.”
So from surfing and swimming to throwing footballs and kicking soccer balls, Doeling and USFSC will continue to support St. John athletics. “I saw a need for something like this down here and I really had an epiphany,” said Doeling. “I knew I had the ability to make some positive changes and I continue to see positive changes on the island through sports in general and through this initiative.”
On a more personal note, and in addition to the above Tradewinds article, I would like to extend a sincere "Thank You!" to our special guest speaker Roland Williams. Roland was amazing with the kids and took the time to play football and other activities with them. Roland also gave an amazing speech and also helped handing out the trophies and medals!
Thank you so much Roland!
2011 JUST PLAY to be held October 10th!
Using Sports for Social Change is celebrating it’s 3rd year anniversary. Over the past three years, USFSC has sent over 900 basketballs, footballs and Soccer balls to St. John, helped local sports programs, took seven USVI youth and their chaperones to the Tortola Surf Classic as well as held two very successful “Just Play!” events. The 3rd annual “Just Play!” event is in the planning stages now! We are looking forward to another wonderful day of sports for the youth and community of the Virgin Islands.
USFSC has been working on two new programs: a surf camp and a swim camp for St. John youth.
St. John, the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, is one of the most beautiful vacation destinations within the USA. Tourism is the primary economic activity, accounting for more than 70% of GDP and 70% of employment. The islands normally host 2 million visitors a year. Non violent petty theft is on the rise, but violent crime is becoming more prevalent as well. Kids of the USVI need something to do in order to sway them from becoming a statistic. While there are a few sports programs in place on the island, not all youth enjoy the few sports that are available to them.
That’s why we believe that surfing can improve the lives of VI youth. As one youth surfer stated in a surf essay contest about surfing: “With too much time on their hands, people get bored and usually resort to making bad decisions in an attempt to stimulate their minds. Whether it’s joining gangs or doing drugs many people (especially kids) in the VI unfortunately go down these roads in a battle to be noticed by others. Surfing can benefit the community by creating a fun hobby for people to enjoy... focusing on progression in a sport, rather than drugs and alcohol.”
Using Sport For Social Change would like to hold a FREE weekend long surf session at one of the more surf friendly beaches on St. John. While the waves are very small, it would still provide the opportunity for VI youth and adults to learn how to surf in a safe, non threatening environment. By holding this weekend long surf clinic, it would bring families together and get kids off the streets and into a physically demanding sport.
As another surf essay contest winner wrote: “...surfing can help keep youth out of trouble and off the streets. By being an individualistic sport, surfing can teach youths to be self relying. It also builds inner strength, when you are out by yourself you don’t have anyone to rely on but yourself.”
It is said that over 30% of West Indian people living in the US Virgin Islands do not know how to swim. It is hard to believe since the Virgin Islands are surrounded by some of the most beautiful clear blue waters in the world. Generation after generation, Virgin Islanders have handed down many wonderful family traditions to their young. However, this same culture and traditions also plays a large part in children and adults not knowing how to swim.
Using Sport For Social Change would like to hold a FREE weekend long swim clinic on St. John, USVI. This yearly clinic would introduce children and adults to water safety, beginner swimming and water play. Dean Doeling, the founder of USFSC, is envisioning a FREE beach play day where the participants are introduced to the water gradually, while playing fun beach sports like football catch and Frisbee toss as well as playing with water toys such as swim noodles and inner tubes. The participants would learn about water safety in a “Hands on” and non threatening environment. All at no cost to the participant. "It is my hope that this will begin to break down the fear of water and bring families together in a way that they may not have been able to before." says Doeling, and the entire St. John community is behind those sentiments!
Thank you for your interest in the programs of this organization, and thank you for considering offerring your support!
Surfers had a ball in Tortola...Just Play Oct 10th coming up!
The Tortola Surf Classic, organized and hosted by Island Surf And Sail in Tortola, allowed Using Sport For Social Change to hold an essay contest for local Virgin Island youth surfers 17 years of age and younger....and 7 kids from STT-STJ received an all expenses paid trip over for the event! The essay contest, in conjunction with Southland Gaming, The St. John Community Foundation and the Parks and Recs Department of St. Thomas and St. John was the first of its kind and definately something to look forward to next year! Thanks to everyone who helped make this possible. Check out the amazing photos and videos by going to http://www.usingsportsforsocialchange.com or surfcostarica.org one of our local resident's Phillip Hall who lives in Costa Rica came to the event and captured it brilliantly!
The 3rd annual "Just Play" day will be on October 10th of this year. We are looking forward to another wonderful day of sports for the youth and community of St. John. We had a kick off party at La Tapa to recap last year and start the ball rolling for this year's event.
We welcome back our two main sponsors from last year Verace St. John and St. John Catering! Verace St. John provided the 1st place trophies and the participant medals, while St. John Catering provided an amazing meal of pasta, salad and bread for all 200+ participants and Volunteers. Can't wait to see what they "cook up" for this October! We hope to include entertainment from the Love City Leapers, the Pandragon's and musical guest King Fidel, as well as moderator, St. John's own Brenda Wallace. We plan to organize another inspirational speaker, like last year's Reginald Cyntje who provided an uplifting message of "Each One, Teach One". Reginald spoke about helping your friends and family by teaching them something you know about, and have them teach you something new. By doing so, everyone can bring about positive change in their lives....and THAT is what Using Sports for Social Change is ALL about ... "Focusing on Virgin Island youth through sports and fitness, giving them the confidence they need to set personal goals, achieve their aspirations and create opportunity for themselves, their family and their community."
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!