Sports play a pivotal role in many students' lives. I'll be the first to admit I was consumed in high school and even part of college by basketball and track and field.
I'm even embarrassed to admit I owned, and proudly wore, Reebok Pump tennis shoes and a shirt that read, "Basketball is life, the rest is just details." Back then, sports was my life.
It's not that I was a stellar athlete, but I enjoyed the camaraderie among the participants. We were the best of friends - most of the time - and spent countless hours together at practice, in the weight room and of course on road trips to away games together.
After graduation day I entered the real world. I got a full-time job and got married. The muscle tone I once had disappeared somewhere between the cushions of the office chair where I now spend eight hours a day. The athletic side of me was gone.
Carl Mills (left) attempted to fight off defender Bret Toman while playing floor hockey with The Journey North's sports ministry program.
Luckily, I found out I wasn't the only 20-something whose athleticism got lost in the shuffle of grown-up life.
While living in the Duluth area, Carl and Shannon Mills played softball in a family church softball league. They dreamed of one day starting a sports ministry because they too were missing the sports involvement of days gone by. When they moved to Brainerd in 2003 they joined a Bible study of young adults that later became part of The Journey North Community Church.
The Mills approached Pastor Mark Bjorlo with their sports ministry idea and were encouraged to pursue it.
"We originally wanted to make friendships and build community together outside the church," said Carl Mills. "There's not a lot of sports options in Brainerd for people outside of high school."
Sports Ministry kicked off in September 2004 with a floor hockey league. There were five teams and about 50 people participating.
"I was pretty impressed with the turnout," said Carl Mills. "I tried to encourage people to get on teams and get involved."
That was only the beginning. Now the sports ministry program has about 150 people participating each year with sports, including dodgeball, floor hockey and volleyball. And it's not only strapping young athletes who play. While rules call for participants to be no younger than 15, even people in their 50s play.
"We're trying to get people involved with church who normally wouldn't," said Matthew Mills. "It's fun to meet new people you may not have otherwise met or been involved with."
Matthew Mills, Carl's brother, is part of the seven-member Sports Ministry leadership team that organizes sports seasons and other special events. While Sports Ministry participants don't have to go to The Journey North, in the future, the group hopes to get other area churches more involved.
Sports Ministry fundraiser
When: 8-10 a.m. Saturday
What's cookin': Pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, coffee and juice will be served.
Tickets: Cost is $5 per plate and tickets will be available at the door. Proceeds will go to Sports Ministry and will be used to buy equipment and pay gym rental costs.
"I like hearing people came to church because of Sports Ministry," said Shannon Mills.
Games are held Sunday nights at The Journey North, located at Franklin Arts Center. Before each game a devotion is read followed by a prayer, reminding athletes the primary reason they're playing is fellowship, not competition.
"We're reaching out to other people," said Mike Moore, Sports Ministry leadership team member who moved to Brainerd from Fargo in 2005. "Sports gives us a better understanding of people and an interaction with others."
For more information on Sports Ministry, visit www.tjnsports.com.
HEIDI LAKE can be reached at 855-5879 or email@example.com.
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