“I came to play some stuff,” said 8-year-old Eion Roberts as he and friend Kai Sealoy, 7, traded shots on who was going to beat whom at soccer and tennis.
The event was organized by Dean Doeling, an Oregon-based production artist for Nike and frequent visitor to St. John. Doeling started the Using Sport for Social Change organization, and its Just Play Day is designed for the island’s youth to try out various sports in a friendly way.
Thanks to Nike, all the youths who participate take home Nike products, a T-shirt and water bottle, enjoyed a complimentary lunch and had something constructive to do on the Columbus Day school holiday.
“I saw a huge need for physical activity for the kids, and it’s just my way of giving back to an island I love so much,” Doeling said.
While most of the 47 volunteers hail from St. John, several came from off island. Dustin Holmes, a U.S. citizen living in Toronto, has been friends with Doeling for years, and said it was appropriate that on Canada’s Thanksgiving Day, he and three Canadian friends were there to help.
“It runs in my family to try to give back,” Holmes said.
St. John resident Rick Barksdale was on hand to help.
“I can’t think of any better way to spend the day. If you want to be young again, help a kid,” he said.
Others also agreed with Doeling that St. John youths need more organized activities.
Nancy Clendinen, who was there with her 7-year-old daughter, Ciena, said the beach was the usual activity when it came to things for her children to do. Ciena said she was there to have fun.
“And to exercise,” she said, echoing the remarks of several youths at the event.
While the day was open to youths from 5 to 17, most were ages 7 to 11. Instead of participating, several older youths were there to help as part of their school’s service activities.
“I like to be active,” said Jaqualyn Clarke, a 15-year-old Gifft Hill student, of her service day.
She and 15-year-old Adaiah Brown, an Ivanna Eudora Kean student, were busy getting ready for the day’s activities.
All the youths started the day by warming up.
“We don’t exercise without warming up,” University of the Virgin Islands basketball coach Sean Georges told them as he led them with stretches.
Though Georges was slated to make an address later on Just Play Day, he was also there in the morning encouraging the youths to participate.
“Now you are ready to just play,” he told them as they headed off to the various sports stations that ringed the ballfield.