Young girls enjoy jumping rope at this year’s Just Play Day.
After being cooped up during several days of heavy rains from Tropical Storm Otto, St. John youngsters relished the chance to run and play in the sun last week.
More than 200 kids and almost as many volunteers packed the Winston Wells ball field on Monday, October 11, for the second annual Just Play Day, which even drew some families from St. Thomas and Water Island.
The flagship event and main fundraiser for Using Sport For Social Change (USFSC), Just Play Day featured St. John youth from 2 to 18 facing off in a variety of activities from a basketball throw to a 50 yard dash.
The event kicked off at 8:30 a.m. with registration and didn’t wrap up until after 2 p.m. Each participant took home a reusable water bottle, canvas tote bag and T-shirt and the top three boy and top three girl contestants in each activity also received medals, thanks to Verace St. John.
USFSC is the brainchild of Dean Doeling, a senior production artist for Nike, who launched the program in June 2008 after being stopped in his tracks by a sight he observed in Cruz Bay while on vacation.
“I was walking by the field in town and I saw a group of kids kicking around one flat soccer ball and still having a great time,” said Doeling. “I imagined what these kids would do if they only had some equipment to use.”
Children of all ages enjoyed games at Just Play.
Shortly after he returned home to Oregon, Doeling launched USFSC as a way to impact St. John youth through sports and fitness. From the first few boxes of equipment donated by Nike and distributed to local schools, the program has been a huge success.
With the goal of giving youth “the confidence they need to set personal goals, achieve their aspirations and create opportunity for themselves, their families and their community,” USFSC is not just fun and games.
Doeling established a core group of dedicated St. John volunteers and launched a partnership with the St. John Community Foundation, the program’s fiscal agent.
In a little more than just two years, USFSC has already had a big impact on local sports. Participants in the annual Ruby Rutnik Memorial Softball Tournament can thank the program for new gloves and St. John Men’s Flag Football teams were the recipients of dozens of pairs of cleats from USFSC.
Add boxes upon boxes of soccer balls, basketballs, baseballs and more for all island schools, and one begins to get a picture of Doeling’s dream.
“I don’t ever want to see a group of kids deprived of sports equipment on St. John ever again,” he said.
Standing on the same field where he observed children playing with the flat soccer ball, Doeling looked like he was having almost as much fun as the 200 kids who ran, jumped, threw balls and laughed all day October 11.
“I liked every activity, but I guess my favorite was the soccer kick into the goal because I got third place,” said Vela Culvert.
“My favorite was the 50 yard dash,” said Soleil Gessner.
Even the volunteers had smiles on their faces throughout the heat of the afternoon.
“I came out to play with the kids,” said Keryn Bryan. “The best part is really the kids’ enthusiasm. It’s been a great day for everyone.”
“If Dean can take the time to come all the way down here from Oregon and put this on, the least we can do is help him,” said Joe Palminteri.
Doeling didn’t make the trip from Oregon to Love City by himself either. Obviously inspiring those around him, Doeling was accompanied by 10 family members including his parents, fiance and sister.
“I didn’t even ask them to come,” he said. “They just told me, ‘We’re coming.’”
Doeling oversaw all aspects of the event, from entertainment to food. Lunch provided by Mathayom Private Chefs, the sounds of Love City Pan Dragons, King Fidel and DJ Percy and moving words from guest speaker Reginald Cyntje, founder of V.I. Movement for Change, capped off a great day in the field.
One conspicuous difference between this year’s event and last year’s was the absence of overflowing garbage bins. Doeling was committed to reducing the event’s environmental impact, and it showed.
“Last year we had over 20 garbage cans which were all full,” he said. “This year we only have five and none of them are full.”
After spending several long days setting up for Just Play Day, Doeling still see
med full of energy and was already planning next year’s event.
“I’ve had people approach me already who want to be sponsors next year,” said Doeling. “Southland Gaming just donated $1,000 and more people said they’d like to help out. Put it on your calendar — Just Play will be on Columbus Day next year.”
USFSC accepts donations year round to help defray the cost of shipping sport equipment and keep St. John youth playing and dreaming big. For more information on USFSC and to donate check out www.usingsportforsocialchange.com.