Rebuilding Mode: The Game

Chapter 4 of West Baltimore: Rebuilding Mode

What works in West Baltimore…

When you start a sports league for kids in West Baltimore, you learn a lot of things about life. Like this…

Weeds poke through what used to be the windows of now vacant, roofless row houses. No one’s home. Bored teenagers loiter on the corner. Nothing to do. Police sirens scream. No one notices. But when Jeff Thompson, the founder of 10:12 Sports, drives down Fulton Avenue in West Baltimore, he doesn’t see what the rest of the world sees. He sees a neighborhood that in many ways is just like every other neighborhood in America. “In our context people claim their neighborhood, like, ‘Don’t talk bad about where I’m from,’” he says. “But I’m a firm believer that we all yearn for community. And that’s not just an urban thing—that’s a human thing.”

After living in the neighborhood for 6 years, Jeff has learned all about West Baltimore dysfunction and how an inner-city sports league can address many of the struggles young people here face. But he’s also discovered that whether it’s football, fishing, or knitting, the principles that work in his neighborhood will work anywhere. “We ask our volunteers, ‘what are you really passionate about, and what’s in your life that you can teach someone?’” he says. “Whatever it is, I’m a firm believer in creating a community around that.”

1. Pray

Romans 12:1 says when we are “transformed by the renewing of our mind” we “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (HCSB) When 10:12 Sports began as a series of once-in-a-while inner-city sports camps, Jeff credits Bible verses like this one with helping him determine his next steps. Expanding to a full-blown league was an exciting idea for Jeff, but until he spent extensive time praying, an “exciting idea” didn’t necessarily equal “God’s idea.” “There are good things and then there are God things,” he says. “Especially for this demographic we were dealing with, I needed to be sure that I was called. So to be soaked in prayer was the number one thing.”

2. Listen

Did Jeff’s neighbors want a sports league for their kids? Would they support it? Were there already similar ministries in the community? Jeff met and talked with people in his community to gauge the need for a kid’s sports program, and the time he spent listening paid off later. “You really want the community to back up what you’re doing,” he says. “That’s really the hook to get folks where they can hear the Gospel, where they can say, ‘ok, you can speak into my life—I trust you because you came and humbly listened.’”

3. Involve churches

10:12 Sports and the churches of West Baltimore developed a reciprocal relationship. The league gives local churches opportunities for outreach while the churches supply resources and people that keep 10:12 Sports up and running. For Jeff, involving local churches was a vital step in building a sports ministry. “We have no desire to replace the local body of Christ,” he says. “We want to serve the local church. And so, we come beside the church and say, ‘We have young men, and we do football. How do we creatively work together so that these young men can experience the love of your local congregation?’”

4. Work hard

For Jeff and many of his coaches and volunteers, keeping 10:12 Sports up and running is a full-time job. Coaches like Sean Goodrich put in hours of work every week. They must mentor and disciple their kids, run practices and draw up and call plays. It’s also their responsibility to find and recruit players. “It takes being in the neighborhood and getting to know people,” Sean says. “We really have to put some effort into getting the players committed”. Jeff says he and his volunteers are willing to put in long hours because they all love football, Jesus and the kids of West Baltimore. “Our young men really take to people with passion. So I feel like whatever you’re teaching and inviting folks into, be passionate about it.”

10:12 Sports is now three years old. The row houses on Fulton Avenue are still abandoned and boarded up. The handful of teenagers hanging out on the corner are still bored. And the statistics pointing to a societal breakdown in West Baltimore are still just a Google search away. Jeff, Sean and all the other volunteers at 10:12 Sports know better than anyone that restoration takes time. But they’re willing to work at it for as long as it takes. “Five years down the road, we’d like to have a thousand participants in our league, and we’d like to have 100 men/mentor relationships,” says Jeff. “We want to see a strong, spiritual Christ-centered shift in the community because of the young men that are being discipled. We want to see disciples making disciples. That’s our calling.”

To see how Jordan Spence and the rest of Sean Goodrich’s 10:12 Sports Eagles team finished their season, click here:

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