Editor’s Note: This story is from the Winter 2013-14 OHSAA Magazine and published with permission from the OHSAA
By Tim Stried
OHSAA Director of Information Services
During most summer sports camps, student-athletes work on fundamental skills at their local high school.
Last summer, that took on a whole new meaning for members of the Findlay community as student-athletes from Liberty-Benton and Findlay high schools, along with several area organizations, teamed up to take a sports camp and hundreds of pieces of sports equipment to Barahona, Dominican Republic.
In a town where poverty is severe and some children did not have shoes, teaching the fundamental skills of basketball, volleyball and soccer at the camp also included giving kids their own T-shirt and pair of shorts and, for most of them, their first sports ball that they could call their own.
The local high school was Ebenezer School, located in Villa Central.
Working with Mission Possible, a volunteer service organization headquartered in Findlay with contacts in the Dominican Republic, former Findlay High School girls basketball coach Connie Lyon organized a massive donation effort that included support from many local organizations, including the Findlay High School girls and boys basketball programs, Findlay/Hancock County Soccer Association, Upward basketball and football, Liberty-Benton Soccer Association and the Liberty-Benton High School girls basketball, girls soccer and cheerleading programs.
The efforts of various groups in Findlay, resulted in 22 bags of water bottles, sports balls, camp shirts, jerseys, shorts and food for breakfast and dinners. Even the Liberty-Benton home economics class got into the act, sewing about 30 drawstring bags for the camp.
The student-athletes were from Liberty-Benton High School, where the Lyon family kids attend, and included Gabrielle and Mackenzie Lyon, Kayla Trevino, Rachel Myers, Alexis Shoffstall and Alyson Hughes. Fifth-graders Noah Lyon and Keaton Rath also joined the group. Mackenzie, who had been on six such service trips through Mission Possible, served as one of the group’s Spanish translators, along with two of the adults.
Assisting Lyon as trip leaders were Mission Possible representative Tracy Rath, Findlay High School and Bluffton University graduate Brittany Roth, Findlay High School and Georgia Tech graduate Ali Niekamp, Findlay High School assistant girls basketball coach Shawn Lyon (Connie’s husband) and recent high school graduates Marisa Burkett (Liberty-Benton), Shelby Eddington (Arlington) and Shelby Schmersal.
“We used sports as a vehicle to help the local school in its endeavors to educate and raise up positive leaders,” Connie Lyon said. “That is the goal of Mission Possible. At the start of each day at camp we talked about values that will enable them to develop strong leadership skills and character.”
The sports camp was the first of its kind in the area. About 80 local boys and girls ages 8 to 20 participated in the five-day camp. Local women worked in the school kitchen to serve lunch to the campers and staff each day.
It was as much a learning experience for the camp staff as it was for the locals. Not only did they plan out the daily camp activities, but they lived together on the roof of the school for the week and cooked their own dinners in a small kitchenette. Bunk beds and a cold, dripping shower were their only amenities.
The daily camp schedule included a morning session, then lunch, then an evening session. On some evenings, the older teenagers returned to the court to scrimmage the Findlay natives. During breaks, the most popular activity of the young girls was to braid and comb the hair of the Ohioans.
“Probably the biggest highlight of the week was when we handed every child their own T-shirt, water bottle and sports ball,” Connie said. “Their eyes just lit up and they all had the biggest smiles. It was a huge deal to them. We also were able to leave them six nets for their basketball hoops and some other equipment.”
In fact, so much sports equipment was donated that almost half went to a Mission Possible project in Haiti and other items went to a donation center in Findlay.
“The camp was just one of the things these kids have done,” Connie said, noting several of their other service projects in northwestern Ohio. “Any opportunity you can give kids to see beyond themselves will have an impact on their future. We want to expose kids to these kinds of opportunities and show them that there is so much beyond Findlay, Ohio. They are all so capable and learn so much. It’s a privilege to represent your school and your community and with that comes great responsibility. As coaches and leaders, that’s our challenge.”
That message certainly got through to all the kids on the trip and to others who were a part of the donation effort.
“With the focus and pressure that comes with sports today, the trip helped me see that there are more important things in the world,” Gabrielle Lyon, a freshman volleyball and basketball student-athlete at Liberty-Benton, said.
“Our ultimate purpose is to bless others, and oftentimes you feel like you are the one that ends up getting blessed,” Connie said. “Trips like this make you realize how fortunate you are. Sports can be used as a tool to bring something like this to those less fortunate than we are and also give the kids the opportunity to spend a week with them, learning just like the campers. For so many kids, their identity is only being a high school student-athlete, but that’s not their true identity. They can be so much more than that.”
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