U.S. Virgin Islands Olympic boxer Clayton Laurent Jr. had a message for young aspiring athletes at St. John’s 8th annual Just Play event on Monday: “Dedication, hard work, respect and love” are the ingredients to success in the world of professional sports.
“Those four things will take you anywhere you want to go,” Laurent told the approximately 200 young people between the ages of five to 17 who signed up for the event.
Just Play is hosted by the organization Using Sport for Social Change, the St. John Community Foundation, and St. John Parks and Recreation. Just Play’s purpose is to help St. John youth develop their skills in different sports, including soccer, basketball, track and field and football. Laurent, who was the V.I. flag carrier at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, was on hand at Cruz Bay’s Winston Wells Ballfield to encourage young aspiring athletes to pursue their passions.
“Sports can take you all over the world,” said Laurent.
He told the kids that when he first started boxing, part of the appeal was that the sport allowed him to travel, even if just to nearby Puerto Rico. But boxing has since taken him as far as Brazil and Poland, he said.
Laurent reminded the event’s young participants that there are many professionals who grew up in the Virgin Islands just like they are doing, athletes who attended their schools, and trained on the same fields and courts they play on. He mentioned major league baseball players Jharell Cotton and Jabari Blash as examples.
“There’s a lot of great talent in the Virgin Islands and you guys are the next set,” he said.
Dean Doeling, a senior production artist for Nike who founded Using Sport for Social Change and conceptualized Just Play, said he wants to see more opportunities for young people on St. John to be involved in athletics.
Doeling, a resident of Oregon who frequently travels to St. John, said he “noticed a big need for sports on the island” about a decade ago and “knew that [he] would eventually be able to do something about it.”
Doeling said he didn’t want to “dive in” without the right resources, so he began networking with parents and school faculty, non-profits, Nike, and sponsors in both the V.I. and Oregon with the goal of launching Just Play. The event now draws approximately 200 young people each year, and 30 volunteers from the community.
“It’s been fantastic. I’ve seen the kids since they were five years old the first year that we were here, and now they’re volunteering with us,” Doeling said. “It’s really a blessing to see these kids grow and change and still be involved in sports.”
He said that next year’s Just Play event promises to be the biggest yet and will include a “cultural heritage” component in honor of the V.I.’s centennial year.
Sponsors for 2016’s Just Play included Mathayom Private Chefs, AAA Fire Protection, Windspree, Seaside Properties, High Tide, the Inn at Tamarind Court, Get Trashed, Sunshine’s Jeep Rental, 8 Tuff Miles, St. John Hardware, X on St. John, Skinny Legs, Cruz Bay Landing, St. John Inn, Aqua Bistro, The Long Board, Caravan Gallery, Ronnie’s Pizza, St. John Rescue, St. John Spice, St. John Provisions, Infinity Personal and Business Services, St. John Ice and Water, STJ Board of Realtors, Love City Lunchbox, Cruz Bay Landing, Morgan’s Mango, Alice By the Sea, William Stelzer, The Triple B, the St. John Community Foundation, and the St. John Dept. of Sports, Parks and Recreation.