by Rebekah Bled
The week after Fall Break every year, open gyms for the Metro Area Basketball Association (MACBA) begin at FUMC. After a few weeks open gyms become practices with defined teams working on specific skills. After Christmas games begin between other church teams in MACBA each Saturday. This is church-league. We have no talent scouts. We play for fun, because faith is more than passive listening. Faith begs a response such as active outreach and sharing what you have been given. At FUMC we have been given a large gym. So we play basketball. Anyone can play.
But you wouldn’t know that if you asked the girls, who had never had their own team and had varying levels of anxiety at the thought of playing with mostly boys.
As a female youth minister, I set out with a passion to let the girls of FUMC know that they were invited to play basketball. That was it. Just a repeated invitation and encouragement that they really could do it, if they decided they wanted to. I gave no thought to a coach for this team of girls, because, truth be told, I never thought there would be a team of girls. I invited anyway, because I thought it was meaningful that they knew. I never expected a response. The Wednesday after Fall Break however, I was proved wrong when a slew of middle school girls showed up. (Note: here, slew means eight.)
We practiced on our own court on the fourth floor gym for several months. I was the coach, along with another youth volunteer. Neither one of us knew anything about basketball, so we recruited high school girls who were practicing with their own teams on the first floor to give us 15 minute tutorials each week.
We named ourselves The Steamrollers. We tie-dyed t-shirts and drew numbers on with Sharpies. We started each practice by sitting in the circle of the gym and having “basketball small group”. “What did we rock at on Saturday?” My co-leader or I would ask in reference to our games. “Ok, what do we need to get better at this week?” We narrowed it down to one thing per week, whether that was dribbling, passing, free-throws, rebounds or not fouling out. Then we kept stats on the back of a grocery list I found in my purse and gave prizes for whoever gave the most sustained effort towards the goal of the week.
It was so fun.
We made MACBA history last year, The Steamrollers, my co-coach and I. And though we didn’t win more than one game, we had the best jerseys, by far the most team spirit, three or four water girls (girls who didn’t want to play, but wanted to be included), unwavering parental support, and so much fun!
MACBA starts again the Wednesday after Fall Break. Teams are split between middle and high school and I had mostly 8th graders last year. Though they are in a whole new age (not to mention height) bracket this year the girls were offended when I floated the idea of adding boys the team. Also, their little sisters are starting Steamrollers Two of their own initiative, making history again with not one, but two girls’ teams from FUMC.
Though this is an article about rec-league basketball, it is really an article about inclusion. Who in your organization, community, or church is sitting on the margins, waiting for an invitation? Who in your life just needs the tiniest bit of encouragement? And when these people or groups of people are invited and encouraged, what rules will need re-evaluating?
Will you need to make your own jerseys? Have basketball small group instead of basketball practice? Who is there to support the new community? And who, like the little sisters, is watching those who respond to invitations, raring to participate if given the opportunity?
Who knows, friends? As we extend invitations and encouragement, we just may be making history.
Rebekah got her start in youth ministry at Christ Church in Montevideo, Uruguay and is now the Minister of Youth Discipleship at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa, OK. Rebekah is married to her soulmate, Philippe. Together they like to drink mate, play soccer with their dogs, and dream of traveling the world. Rebekah has read Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy six times. Read her other 918 articles here and here.