Lace up those sneakers and get ready to take to the Winston Wells ball field on Monday, October 10, for the third annual Just Play Day.
A full day of fun and games for students between the ages of two and 17, the free event is hosted by the nonprofit Using Sport for Social Change (USFSC), which was founded by Dean Doeling.
The nonprofit’s mission is to “focus Virgin Island youth through sports and fitness, giving them the confidence they need to set personal goals, achieve their aspirations and create opportunity for themselves, their family and their community,” according to the website usingsportforsocialchange.com.
Doeling, a senior production artist for Nike who frequently vacations on St. John, was inspired to create the sport-centric nonprofit after noticing a lack of adequate sports equipment for youth on Love City.
With some support from Nike as well as a dedicated group of St. John parents and business owners, Doeling’s initial idea of supplying a few sports balls for local schools has blossomed into a much-anticipated yearly event and support for an array of island athletics.
“I started this initiative in June of 2008 with the idea of just getting the kids of the schools in St. John, USVI something to play with,” Doeling said. “However, in speaking with many people on and off island, it is now my intention to develop and assist with sports and fitness programs that will eventually be self supporting and sustainable within all of the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
“One thing I’ve learned which is a big part of the whole process is being accountable,” said Doeling. “You have to be there for the kids. You have to show up and do what you say you are going to do.”
And Doeling has done just that. Since the first Just Play Day in October 2009, USFSC has not only expanded the event’s sponsorship and drawn larger attendance each year, Doeling has also donated sports equipment to the Annual Ruby Rutnik Memorial Softball Tournament, the St. John Men’s Flag Football League as well as each island school.
This year’s Just Play Day is shaping up to be the best one yet. While the day will be full of games like 50-yard dash, football toss, tug of war, soccer kick, basketball shooting and more, each year the event draws more sponsors and is better organized, explained Doeling.
“This year Just Play Day is going to be bigger and better than past years,” he said. “Each year it gets better organized and we’ve gotten a lot of great sponsors this year. Everyone is really stepping up to the plate and supporting us.”
“We’ve generated a lot of community support and there are a lot of people behind this event now,” Doeling said. “I feel blessed that so many people are getting on board. We have some sponsors who have been with us from the beginning which we really appreciate and we have some new sponsors who hadn’t heard about us before, which is fantastic.”
Doeling is asking volunteers to arrive at the field around 8:30 a.m. to help in anticipation of the children arriving around 9 a.m. After handing out free Cliff Bars for extra energy and T-shirts and water bottles to each participant, the children will take to the field and warm up, explained Doeling.
“We’ll have them practice in the stations until around 9:30 a.m., then we’ll have Shatik Stevens sing both the U.S. National Anthem and the Virgin Islands March and then we’ll get the ball rolling,” said Doeling.
For the second year in a row, St. John Catering and Mathayom Private Chefs will be feeding lunch to all the hungry participants, volunteers and guests.
“We’re going to get the competition portion of the day done in the morning and then we’ll feed everyone lunch around noon,” said the USFSC founder. “After lunch we want the kids to be free to pick what they want to play for the rest of the day.”
While the kids are having fun at a sport of their choosing, volunteers will be tallying up scores for boys and girls in each age group. The afternoon will also be full of fun with Brenda Wallace emceeing once again, DJ Percy on hand spinning tunes all day and King Fidel and the Love City Pan Dragons entertaining the crowd.
This year’s guest speaker Roland Williams will address the crowd around 3 p.m. An eight-year NFL veteran, Roland was on the Super Bowl XXXIV winning St. Louis Rams before suffering a career ending injury in 2006. Since his retirement, Williams has dedicated himself to the nonprofit organization he founded in 1999, Youth Lifeline America.
The organization aims to harness “the powerful influence of celebrity athletes, entertainers and business professionals to teach at-risk youth valuable life skills necessary to become more positive and productive individuals,” according to the website rolandwilliams.com.
After hearing from Williams, the winning students for each sport in each age group will receive trophies. No one goes home from Just Play empty handed, however; all participants will take home a goodie bag full of Nike and local swag.
The event should wrap up around 4 p.m. and Doeling expects about 150 students to take part. Pre-registration is encouraged and Doeling can only allow 200 children to register.
“I would really like people to pre-register so we can get their correct T-shirt sizes and tell our caterer a head count for lunch,” said USFSC founder.
For the first time, students will have the chance to learn about tennis thanks to Caneel Bay Resort’s Donald Becker, Doeling explained.
“Donald called me and volunteered to bring some racquets to the event to introduce kids who have not had the opportunity to try tennis before a chance to give it a try,” said Doeling. “We’re also going to orchestrate an event where children have to rely on each other like a water balloon toss or something.”
And as soon as the event wraps up, Doeling and his team of volunteers will start looking ahead to the fourth annual Just Play Day, he explained.
“We’re definitely thinking and orchestrating things for next year right from the day after the event,” said Doeling.
Just Pay Day is free and open to all children between the ages of two and 17, but pre-registration is encouraged. To sponsor, participate or take part in the event, check out www.usingsportforsocialchange.com.