by Peter Cozmy
Inner city life can be very rough at times.
Especially for children and young adults. The problems that all of society faces seem to
be more prevalent in urban areas. Drugs, violent crimes, lack of resources, and single
parent households can contribute to an environment filled with strife or even hatred. As a
result, kids often end up releasing their aggression in a negative way. There does exist,
however, a positive alternative. Thanks to the Special Program of Recreational Therapy
(S.P.O.R.T.), young people living in the inner city have an opportunity to turn their
aggression into athleticism.
Its founder, Terry Riggs, heads the S.P.O.R.T.s Ministry of Ohio.
The program started approximately ten years ago. Riggs began handing out flyers at
churches, and inviting kids to meet at ballparks to play sports. He would then ask
professional athletes that he knew to come and speak to the kids. Businesses soon began
supporting the program and it eventually became a non profit organization. The program has
since grown to support over 1200 young people each year.
The program is designed to do more than just let kids play sports. It
teaches kids a sense of right and wrong. It enables them to work together with other
people their age in a positive way. It stresses the importance of good sportsmanship and
proper behavior. After a child has been in the program a while and becomes established,
local churches are contacted to try to get the kids involved. Riggs is currently writing
nearly 200 churches to see if they will take in kids from the court systems. Sometimes
they can avoid serving time by getting involved with churches and community services.
Although the S.P.O.R.T.'s ministry is aimed at helping under privileged
children in the inner cities, many different kids are involved. Males or females up to 18
years of age all participate. It is a program that not only touches the Christian
community, but the secular community as well. Muslim, Catholic, and even Buddhist children
have enrolled. The governor has even expressed interest in involving the S.P.O.R.T.s
ministry with the state's current programs to help kids on probation or in correctional
facilities. The program has already changed the lives of many troubled youth.
Riggs says that most kids are used to getting their own way. The
ministry offers structure, and rules that they must learn to follow. Sometimes it can be a
very new experience for kids used to doing their own thing. "Consistency is their
enemy," said Riggs. "That's how they get away with things. If they're coming
from single parent homes, you play one against the other, the parent that's in house
against the parent that's out of the house. They play the teacher against the parent. So
they get really good at it by the age of nine." The program also uses athletes to
excite kids about the program. Former athletes such as basketball player, Freeman Blades,
Cleveland Indians player Joe Charbenou, and Browns defensive back, Mark
Harper, come in and speak to the kids. Positive role models are very important in today's
world. Especially role models that know that there is more to life than just right and
wrong. Mark Harper said, "I accepted Christ at an early age, and really took it real
serious when I got into college, and I know that's the reason why God's using me in a lot
of different ways right now, in areas dealing with kids and people in general life. That's
my number one thing."
Ultimately it is up to each individual whether or not they want to
believe in God. In proverbs 22:6, however, it says, "Train a child in the way he
should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." The S.P.O.R.T.'s Ministry of
Ohio can be a great first step in that training process. Even if the kids choose not to
accept Jesus into their hearts, now, a seed is planted. Perhaps one day it will grow, and
the kids will have an opportunity to turn their athleticism into evangelism.