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!