Once again this year, while the Julius E. Sprauve School won’t host classes on Columbus Day, the school’s field will be packed with children of all ages.
Kids across the island are already gearing up for next week’s Second Annual Just Play Day, set for Monday, October 11, at the Winston Wells ball field with registration starting at 8:30 a.m.
The event, which is open to children between the ages of two and 18, is the brain child of Dean Doeling, a senior production artist for Nike who launched the organization Using Sport for Social Change (USFSC) in June 2008.
During a trip to St. John, Doeling saw a lack of recreational resources on the island and was inspired to help improve the situation.
“I was walking by the field in town and I saw seven kids kicking around one flat soccer ball,” said Doeling. “They were having a great time, but I imagined what these kids would do if they had some equipment to use.”
With that vision in mind, Doeling returned to Oregon and began planting the seeds for USFSC, which he envisioned would “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.”
The first Just Play Day was hosted last year on Columbus Day and drew about 150 children of all ages, who competed in a variety of activities. Following on the heels of that event’s success, this year’s Just Play Day is expected to be even bigger and better, according to Doeling.
“Last year was a great success,” said Doeling. “I don’t think it could have been any better. I think people were looking for the catch last year.”
“But the only catch was getting kids to get out and play,” he said. “I hope people realize we’re stable and we’re going to be here. We’re taking away what didn’t work last year and keeping what did and adding new activities that I think will just make the event even better.”
This year organizers are capping participation at 200 children, so parents are encouraged to sign their kids up early. Children will be separated into separate age groups and little ones between two and four years old must be accompanied by an adult.
Activities this year include soccer kick in a goal, soccer relay through a set of cones, 50 yard dash, football throw through a target, tug of war and basketball throw.
Doeling is introducing a few new games this year as well, including half-ball.
“Half-ball was started back in the East Coast and it’s much like stickball,” said Doeling. “It came from when the tennis ball they were using for stick ball broke. They decided to make up new rules and created this whole new game.”
“It’s quite a technique to be able to throw this ball accurately,” Doeling said. “We’ll have information on how to play the whole game and how to throw the ball through a target.”
The ever-popular universal dodgeball will be back and Doeling is working with V.I. Police Department officials to use their radar gun for a fastest baseball pitch contest.
In total there will be 11 games in which children can compete in a safe environment.
“While the event is competitive, it’s more about just getting kids out there to do their best in a non-threatening atmosphere,” said Doeling. “If they happen to be really fast or really good at something, they’ll win a medal. But no one is going to go home empty-handed.”
All participants who stay for the full day will take home a canvas tote bag, participant medal, reusable water bottle and T-shirt. The top three female and male competitors in each age group will also take home a trophy, thanks to a generous donation by Verace St. John.
The owners of Verace, located in Wharfside Village, have also donated canvas tote bags for the event, in keeping with this year’s push to make Just Play Day green, explained Doeling.
“The push this year is going green so we have on-island 200 printed reusable water bottles we’re going to give to the kids,” he said. “St. John Ice is providing the water and we’ll have refill stations and also I’m bringing down tons of powdered Gatorade. So we’ll have water and Gatorade available for the kids throughout the whole day.”
Also new this year, Mathayom Private Chefs will be catering the event and will be serving up pasta with a variety of sauces for all participants.
DJ Percy will be spinning music all day long, and King Fidel will share his Calypso stylings. Love City Pan Dragons and Love City Leapers are also slated to entertain the crowd.
Emcee extraordinaire Brenda Wallace will moderate the event again this year and V.I. Movement for Change founder Reginald Cyntje will be the special guest speaker.
“Reginald is a trombonist, educator and activist from St. Thomas who founded the V.I. Movement for Change,” said Doeling. “He has a very positive message for youth. It’s all about staying out of trouble and focusing parents to step up and show the kids we mean what we say.”
“It’s a very inspiring message and I think it’s great timing that this event is happening and he graciously agreed to be our guest speaker,” Doeling said.
In addition to hosting the Just Play Day events, USFSC also supports the V.I. Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation as well as various sports groups on St. John. USFSC recently donated new baseball bats to HPR for their traveling team, six boxes of footballs, basketballs and soccer balls slated for all St. John schools and has also supported the Men’s Flag Football League as well as the annual Ruby Rutnik Memorial Softball Tournament.
Don’t miss the fun at the Winston Wells ball field on October 11. Registration for participants and volunteers is open now at www.usingsportforsocialchange.com.