Friday, June 15, 2012

Basketball Abroad: Gordon’s Men Take Their Talents to Central America

Gordon's men's basketball team went 10–0 in Guatemala and El Salvador earlier this month. But the scores, of course, don't capture the real story in an outing like this. (And to be fair, they were 0–1 in soccer matches, losing their only game to a group of wiry 12-year-olds.)

Once every few years, the NCAA permits basketball teams to take a trip abroad to play exhibition games against foreign college, semi-professional and professional teams. For most schools, this is a way to rack up valuable on-court time (outside of the league's stringent in-season restrictions) while gaining some fun international exposure. But for these 17 Gordon student-athletes, the chance to travel abroad and play basketball also represented an opportunity to serve the communities they visited and to share the gospel.

Working in partnership with a ministry called Sports Ambassadors, the players travelled to various sites across the two Central American nations, playing games with local and national teams, and running basketball clinics at schools for kids from six years old to high school age. "The clinics were absolute chaos," said Keith Krass, assistant coach and a trip leader, "but they were really fun, too." At some schools, there were over 200 children—divided into six stations, each led by a couple team members.

At each stop, a member of the team would share a brief testimony with the group assembled. The local pastor who travelled with the athletes would then offer a simple gospel message and an invitation to commit or recommit to Christ.

"An American team coming to these towns creates a lot of excitement," said Krass. But the ministry was careful not to rest its outreach solely on the buzz the team generated. "The goal was ultimately to connect them with the local church." Those who responded to the message each filled out an information card for follow-up with Christian communities in their area—and though it is difficult to measure the longterm endurance of highly charged responses like these, it is certainly an encouragement to know that Sports Ambassadors collected over 1,500 cards as a result of the 11-day Gordon basketball tour.

The trip also served as an opportunity for the team to get closer in preparation for the 2012–2013 season. With the testimonies they shared, hours spent on airplanes and busses, communal fatigue, confronting problems of poverty and developing world issues, and living and eating together for nearly two weeks, the group built a solid foundation of friendship upon which it will be able to pursue greater athletic achievement in the coming year.

The trip was a bookend of sorts for Krass, who has now stepped down from his role as assistant coach, but will continue to serve Gordon as special projects coordinator for the academic dean. "I've been on three of these trips—once as a student, twice as a leader," he said, "and this was the most energetic, enthusiastic, engaged and respectful group I've worked with."

Photo: Gordon's men's basketball team posing with their evening's opposition in Chimaltengo, Guatemala.

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