Gospel in the Gym: Oklahoma Basketball League Connects Congregation to Community
By Brian Ramsey
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Sapulpa First Church of God did what every church should do—they went to their city and asked a vital question, “What can we do to support the community?” and the city replied with one request: start a basketball program for the youth (Kindergarten to fourth grade). So, the Oklahoma congregation did just that.
In those days, the initial organization was led by Tommy Dove, who now serves in Tennessee. For the last thirteen years, Jon Greer, the associate pastor and youth minister of Sapulpa, has been steering the boat, and the family at the church has been involved in truly impacting their community—one dribble, and one player, at a time.
There are two leagues. Girls play from September to November each fall, and the boys play during the January and February timeframe. This past year, 176 girls participated, and 193 boys came to throw the rock. With nearly 400 children involved, the logistics are mind-boggling, but the church and those from the community, and other churches who support them, would not want it any other way.
Each year, the church delivers registration forms to the local school system and they advertise on social media. Their goal is to provide a fun and safe environment for the children to play and learn about basketball and life. There were 24 teams in the boys group, and on registration night (called “Round Up”), players are evaluated, and the teams are designed to spread the talent out. “Sometimes we have someone call us with a pre-formed team that wants to join our league, but that is not what we are about,” notes Jon Greer.
When Jon started, there were 45 students, but the program has grown, and the amazing thing is that 98 percent of the players are not from the church. Practice is held at various gyms around the city and, on Saturday, Sapulpa is poised for the day. There are 12 games that day alone.
Jon also explains that the referees are there to control the flow but also teach the young players. It is not uncommon for a ref to stop the game and demonstrate what good defensive stance is or teach about how not to travel. “The sincere care and determination of the people who work with the program is phenomenal,” notes Jon, “and without everyone’s dedication, we would not be able to have such a successful program.”
Of course, there is prayer before each game, and the church distributes plenty of material with spiritual truths to the families. Last November, there was a young mother murdered in the city, and her three children went to the local school system. The Sapulpa church was called to see if the children could join their program because it was a caring and safe place for them to heal.
Jon Greer and his wife Katie, who serves as the children’s director, have three children themselves who were/are a part of the program: Brady (13), Noah (11), and Lucy (7). Both Jon and Katie went to Mid-America Christian University and were involved in sports; Jon was the sports information director and Katie played. Jon notes that his mentor at college, Willie Holly, who was the athletic director, mentored Jon as he planned and executed events at the school. It was exceptional training for his work now in leading a program that provides opportunity and growth for all.
Jon loves the many people of the Bible who teach us about life. He mentions Peter and his relatability—as he never quite gets some things right but tries to do right. He also enjoys the persistence of Joseph who was not sure what God was up to but sought to stay faithful. Jon appreciates the verse in 2 Timothy (1:7) that tells us that the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. With the greatness of God, the sound leadership of Sapulpa First Church of God, exceptional volunteers, and wonderful children from Sapulpa, how could this basketball league do anything but continue to succeed?
For more information about starting and running a program like this, you may call the church at 918-224-0380 or visit their website at www.sfcog.org.
Dr. Brian Ramsey resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife of thirty-six years, Tammy, who has taught as a kindergarten teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson for over twenty-five years. He has two married children and four grandchildren—all girls, and their wishes have absolutely no extra control over him. He currently works with his son who owns a magazine, and he writes for various entities. He is very involved in his church in the Soul Care Ministry, and he loves to read, watch and play sports, and teach college classes.
To learn more about the Church of God movement, visit www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) collage: Student basketball players enjoying the ministry of Sapulpa First Church of God.