When we think of sports often we imagine the huge turf field, bright lights, and cheering crowd energized over the competition. Rarely do we picture two sticks shoved vertically into a mud field with an old soccer ball being kicked around by children without shoes.
Have we lost the meaning of sports in all of the bright light? Nowadays, it’s easy to criticize the American sports culture–the NFL has been accused of condoning violence against women, college teams have created lists that rate the attractiveness of new recruits, and many athletes face permanent brain damage at the ends of their careers.
Yet, Jesuit students continue to stand in the bleachers in pouring rain to support their teams, they go on service trips and build courts in impoverished communities, and they dedicate hours every day to training for the big game–why?
Senior Kiki Ogino went to Panama over the summer to build a court that kids could play soccer on and the community could use as a gathering place.
“There was a girl named Marta while we were in Panama,” Ogino said. “In the first few days she didn’t want to play soccer. But by the second to last day she was playing with us and all the other little girls had kicked off their shoes and they were playing too.”
Like many developing countries, Panama is plagued by a machismo culture, where women are confined to house duties, with limited access to education or work.
“A lot of girls feel like they can’t play sports or feel like they shouldn’t or like they’re not as good as the boys,” Ogino said. “I think it’s really important to break that mold.”
Being able to participate in sports not only helps women break through the confines of gender roles, but empowers youth by providing them with an opportunity to see their own potential as a way to overcome the limitations of poverty.
“When you start to try something new and realize I’m capable of doing this then you start to ask what else can I do that other people are telling me I can’t do?” Christian Service Director Ms. Andrea Casey said. “I think [sports] have the potential to broaden people’s perspectives about themselves and what they are capable of doing.”
Athletics also serve as a “universal language” of sorts, while many students did not speak the language of the country they were doing service in, they developed relationships with locals through friendly competition.
“[During my service trip to the Dominican Republic] I realized how much sports can bring a community together and how much it can mean to someone,” said senior varsity volley ball player Kelly Kaempf. “Even though it’s just a sport, it can really change the way people see themselves and how others treat each other. “
Under circumstances as cruel and dehumanizing as extreme poverty, the bonds a community forms may be developed through the endurance of hardship but are also influenced by the small things, such as a friendly game of soccer played in a muddy field.
At Jesuit, sports, although oftentimes more competitive with higher stakes, share a similar message of communal support. Junior football and baseball player David Arndorfer is one of many student athletes that have gone on service trips to build sport courts, in Arndorfer’s case to Panama, and came back with an enriched love for athletics.
“[Sports] have taught be how to be a man for and with others” Arndorfer said. “In football and baseball its not all about you and your personal stats, it’s about the team and how to put yourself below to increase the success of the team.”