By: Katie Sobiech
For the past five years S.P.A.N. Ministries, at Shepard’s Pasture for All Nations church in Tallmadge, has been hosting their free summer football and cheerleading camp. This year it will be held June 23rd-26th at Dix Stadium at Kent University.
“It’s something our church does with a few other churches and organizations to bridge the community, because a lot of times churches will kind of function as little islands where they’re not really integrated into the community,” Kurran Bishop, Director of Operations and Elder at Shepherd’s Pasture for all Nations, said.
To welcome people to their churches they offer a free football and cheerleading camp.
“We create a bridge, which is the camp, tied into a mentoring program. This gives them something to enjoy and through that they can build relationships which make them feel more comfortable visiting one of our churches,” Bishop said.
Boys and girls ages 5-14 are taught either football or cheerleading fundamentals, with the main intention being to build relationships with the parents and kids which will lead to involvement in the mentoring program. Mentoring is year-round whereas the camp lasts only four days.
This year they are accepting 100 boys and 100 girls.
“We knew a lot of guys who had either professional or college football experience,” Bishop said.
During their 3rd year they met the owners of Baunfire Athletics, a flag football jersey company, who now help run the camp.
“Baunfire basically revolutionalized flag football by attaching the flags by Velcro to the jerseys,” Bishop explained.
That same year the kids got to play under the lights at the Akron Rubber Bowl. American League All-stars in Tallmadge helped coach.
“The kids come from all over,” Bishop said, “Most are from Akron, a lot of inner city kids, also Tallmadge, Kent, Ravenna and Cleveland.”
About 50% come from two charter schools in Akron: Hope Academy on Arlington and Hope Academy on Brown Street.
“Neither of these schools have sports. Part of the reason we chose sports as a bridge is because a lot of schools are cutting sports because of money,” Bishop explained.
S.P.A.N. finds it important to reach and instill values in the youth.
“The goal of the camp is to take the kids to the next level on the field, so we’re giving them skills to get them ready for that next level off the field. We’re giving them whatever skills are going to get them to the next level in life whether it be High School, the military, getting a job, whatever it is…we’re helping them get to the next level, whatever that next level is for that child we want to help them get there,” Bishop said.
A typical day at the camp includes a warm up, learning a fundamental drill, breaking up into teams, practicing and playing another team. Each day an NLF player speaks to the kids.
“We try to find Christian players that can speak about their life, setting goals and how to succeed,” Bishop said.
Some special guests that they’ve had in the past include Joshua Cribbs, Shawn Lazarus, Derrick Ransom, Dr. Jason Carthen, George Lilja, and Elder Kenan Bishop.
The philosophy of the camp includes teaching discipline, order and respect.
“On T.V. it looks like maybe there’s a lack of discipline or respect for the officials when it comes to NBA players or professional athletics,” Bishop said, “Kids are seeing that and it seems more and more kids think they can say or do whatever they want to because of their athlete or star. We’re trying to show them that discipline, order and respect are important both on and off the field.”
The mentoring program is one mentor, one child, once a week. Mentors often visit the children at their home or school. A large group gathers once a month for fun activities. Boys and girls are kept separate but come together occasionally for a community service project.
“If they have any issues that they want to talk about that they might not want to with their parents they can talk to us,” Bishop said, “We have a unique relationship with the parents, where they trust us and so do the kids.”
Bishop, a mentor himself, recalls one memory with his mentee. The boy was having a bad day at school due to a bad home situation, so the guidance counselor called Bishop to come see him.
“I was able to go up to the school during lunch and talk with the child and get him calmed down,” Bishop said.
“One by one we try to pull in more schools and community centers that are interested in coming on board,” Bishop said.
In the past they’ve invited churches and pastors to volunteer.
“Many of the kids don’t have transportation, or the parents can’t get them to the camp because they’re working, so we provide transportation,” Bishop said.
Montrose Zion and the Salvation Army church on Arlington and Case have participated in the past.
“It’s a lot for a small church, but we have a few partnerships. We kind of need everybody to jump in. Pulling in a few from other ministries and organizations helps it run smoothly,” Bishop said.
Last year, American League All-stars sent in coaches and provided t-shirts for the girls.
“This year they’re going to be out of town at a tournament so they won’t be able to participate. We’re still trying to find someone locally who would like to get involved,” Bishop said.
Baunfire Athletics also provided jerseys for the teams in past years and blessed the ministry.
In the future they would like to have this event in multiple locations, including Cleveland, Akron and Kent.
For more information on the event, to register, or if you are a cheerleading team that would like to co-sponsor and provide coaches please contact Kurran Bishop at 330.630.3190. For more on S.P.A.N. please visit http://www.spanministries.org. For more on Baunfire Athletics you can visit http://www.baunfireathletics.com.