Originally published Sept 8, 2022 by the Gonzaga Bulletin.
By Sydney Fluker
Gonzaga University’s kinesiology and sport management department is bringing back the Foundations in Sports Outreach course this semester, providing students the opportunity to run an after-school fitness program at the Gonzaga Family Haven.
The course previously ran three times beginning in 2017 as a special topics course called Foundations in Sports Ministry, but a state university policy requires that special topics courses be given their own number if offered more than three times. Now, the class is registered under EDPE 307.
The idea originally came from kinesiology department chair and course instructor Jimmy Smith, who stumbled upon sports ministry while looking for a way to give back to his community with his brother.
“I struggled with the idea of how I can best give back to my community,” Smith said. “I would go to church and help out there or go into the community and coach youth sports, but I wanted to be able to have a little bit more of an enhanced impact, I guess.”
Sports ministry is the use of sports within faith communities to connect with their congregations or communities. According to Smith, this can be with traditional team sports or individual sports, like the mobile skateboarding sport ministry in San Antonio, Texas.
“It’s not all about , there’s a lot of places that will preach the word of God, but there’s other places where, like mine, it’s about teaching kids about sportsmanship, being a good teammate, being a good brother or sister, those kinds of things,” Smith said.
The course was originally partnered with Trinity Catholic School when it began in 2017, running three semesters there before having to pause due to COVID-19. GU students would arrive with Smith at 6:50 a.m. to prepare for kids to arrive at 7 a.m., where they would be run through physical exercises, fed healthy food and taught about nutrition. Smith said they received positive feedback from the teachers, who said the before-school program proved especially beneficial for kids with behavioral issues.
Smith was approached by School of Education Dean Yolanda Gallardo in May to revive the course after the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) received funding to create an after school fitness program at the Gonzaga Family Haven.
“It was a challenge to figure out how we’re going to do this and I thought, 'why not bring this course back?”, Smith said. “Help Gonzaga Family Haven, get some Gonzaga students involved, give back to the community that way.”
Even though course registration had been done in the months prior, Smith decided to bring back Foundations of Sports Ministry as its own course, Foundations of Sports Outreach. EDPE 307 is a writing enriched, social justice and community engaged learning (CEL) designated class that serves as an EDPE elective credit.
“It’s been a really great class in the sense that it provides an opportunity for Gonzaga students to expand their horizons on what sports can do, where they probably wouldn’t have realized that.” Smith said.
Bailley Wootton is CCE’s director of strategic partnerships and works closely with the Gonzaga Family Haven. Focus groups held with residents of other similar Catholic Charities residences were able to give feedback as to what programs they wanted to see created, which helped inform some of the design and programming at the Haven.
“The focus is on promoting activity through sports and making opportunities available to kids,” Wootton said. “We are recognizing that there are often barriers to participating in these sports in particular, so how can we break down those barriers, whether that’s financial or accessibility for other reasons?”
According to Wootton, the program is structured to be adaptable and flexible to the advice they receive from families and the youth participating. Participant feedback will determine whether program content needs to be added or removed.
A typical program day would begin about 10 minutes before the program starts, when Smith and the GU students arrive to set up that day’s activities. Then, GU students would inform the participants about each station and lead them through, creating a space where kids can build community and increase their physical fitness abilities.
The course is held directly at the Haven, making use of the green space available there. The Haven’s partnership with Gonzaga Preparatory School might allow the course to use their fields when they aren’t in use by their students, giving them the chance to have extra space for certain activities.
“We’ve really wanted to think about after school programming as a space where youth feel welcome and where they feel safe and have a real sense of belonging,” Wootton said. “So, the idea is to create after school programming where they know what to expect when they arrive … They know they will have people with whom they can build relationships, and all of that is done in a way that’s welcoming and respectful of the youth.”