At center court in the gymnasium in the Sacred Heart Church Family Center, two kids were gesturing either rock, paper or scissors, to determine which team of five will get the ball first in a soccer tournament put on by two coaches in our local league.
Just a short time earlier, excited players filed in and looked for their name on a board just inside the gym doors that listed the many different teams that would compete against each other for a few hours on a Sunday evening.
Boys and girls ranging in age from 8 to 11 were mixed together. The teams—with a little bit of nudging now and then—subbed players in and out to give everyone the opportunity to play in numerous five-minute matches. The coaches kept score, time and the peace with cheering parents lining the rows in the bleachers. As one of those cheering parents, I sat there thinking how lucky I was to be with our kids, their friends and teammates in that church gym where so many of the activities they are involved in take place.
At ages 9 and 11, both of our kids, as members of the parish, have participated in the CYO Basketball League, and thanks to dedicated coaches, have enjoyed plenty of spirited games with other churches and schools over the cold winter months. A basketball tournament between one of the girls and boys teams was just as fun as the soccer tournament. Another coach’s basketball clinic Saturday mornings introduced many kids in our community to the fundamentals of the game.
But it’s not just the site of athletic competition. Once a month in that same gym, our kids participate in a junior youth group, where most recently, they made sandwiches for the homeless; tables of kids working together to help those in need.
They were giving of themselves and in return getting back camaraderie and even a little pride for helping out. Crab soccer with a huge inflatable ball was also a great reward at the end of the night, and when they played their parents the game was even more fun.
A month before that, our police chief addressed the junior youth group in the gym with a presentation on bullying. The chief’s own admission that he was bullied as a kid seemed to strike a chord in the kids, and they sat there, listening intently. To start his presentation, he introduced his friend “Steve,” who was really one of the youth group leaders dressed in pants that were too short, thick glasses, suspenders and a funny hat. As the kids giggled, the chief made his point. Steve may dress differently and seem clumsy, but it wasn’t fair for the kids to judge him based on his appearance.
It may sound corny but I will say when Steve (who is a good friend) first came into the gymnasium during the chief’s presentation it brought tears to my eyes. He was willing to play that part for the same reason the chief was willing to come talk with our kids. They care and if they can inspire one, two or all of the kids who attend month to month, it’s worth it.
As the old saying goes, “It takes a village.” This is our village. As parents, we try to do the best we can for our kids. At home, we provide them with what they need emotionally, physically and spiritually. These outside activities, grounded in our faith and connected to our church, enhance our efforts. As a kid, I griped about having to go to church every Sunday. Later, I wouldn’t think it was so bad, as my brothers made me and my sisters shake with silent laughter in our pew. Our tittering would get worse, even noisy, when a friend of our parents leaned forward and whispered that he’d tell on us for misbehaving while our dad was being an usher. See, it took a village back then, too!
It wasn’t until I was much older that I began to appreciate my faith in God and the values I gained from my parents. Maybe our kids don’t recognize right now how much these experiences are shaping them, but I believe they will look back one day and appreciate the faith they shared with friends they played and prayed with and the time spent in church and CCD, even if they fidgeted in their seats.
I know they will have great memories of these moments spent in the gym. It’s a community center, one that has hosted school and library events, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, even birthday parties. When our kids think of those moments, I hope they picture with gratitude the people who impacted this part of their youth. The junior youth group leaders who took the time to create opportunities for them to live their faith on more days than just Sunday, coaches, their friends’ parents and other adults in the community who further reinforce the values Tom and I share.
And as the police chief tried to convey, whether we see ourselves as similar or different from someone in our neighborhood or classroom, there is a common thread in how we all want to be treated. Do unto others. Lead by example. Build others up. I know there’s no guarantee, nor should there be the expectation that all of this will produce a child who doesn’t make mistakes. We all make them, that’s part of the growing up process, too. I just feel confident that this special place and its people have given our kids and many others a really good start.
?Robin Rieger is a former anchor and reporter with CBS 3. A lifelong South Jersey resident, she lives with her husband, Philadelphia 76ers Radio play-by-play broadcaster Tom McGinnis, and their two children in Burlington County.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 1 (April, 2015).
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