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Bonds of friendship formed through sports

4~ Rotary Clubs reach out ~

By Tom Burnett

Five Rotarians from Canada are visiting St. Maarten and Anguilla for three weeks to support youth sports and life skills through sport. Lezlie Murch, Darren Luong, Jean Montgomery, Michael Hogg and Laura Chatterton, from Rotary District 7090 from the Ontario area, are volunteering their time on both islands and working with the local Rotary Clubs of District 7020.

The group is meeting with local youth sports organizations and school teachers. The five Rotarians form the 2015 Vocational Training Team (VTT). "This is really a pilot project to see if we can help other Rotary districts through sports," said Luong, a martial arts specialist and a computer technician. Luong has been spending a lot of his time discussing responsible social media with the youths. "I've been talking to the smaller children (primary school) about cyber bullying and the older kids (high school) about posting too much personal information online."

THE GOALS OF the project state that the team will support literacy education by working with coaches, volunteers and teachers, who in turn introduce children to playing sports. The sport in turn promotes active living, making healthy choices, reducing childhood obesity and gender disparity. "Through education in sports, children learn about achievable goals; they develop values of commitment, discipline, fair play and sportsmanship."

Team leader Lezlie Murch formulated the pilot project after meeting and talking with St. Maarten professional baseball player Rene Leveret. Leveret, who hails from South Reward, played for the Quebec Capitals and routinely promotes The Friendly Island through his sport.

Murch shared how the project came about: "I personally have been in the sports industry for 40+ years as an athlete, a coach, and currently a sports academy (tennis) owner. When I was 15, my tennis coach introduced me to Rotary Youth Exchange." That led her, by age 16, to spend a year in Bolivia as an exchange student. "I am now a proud member of the Rotary Club of St. Catharine's – the very club that sent me on youth exchange! I am thrilled for the opportunity to give back as Rotary has given me so much through my life."

THE GROUP HAS already visited several schools and after-school sport programs. It helped out with the player development program of St. Maarten Little League last Saturday, and has stopped by multiple times during the week to keep up with the ball players. It's a program that uses the sport to motivate higher levels of academic learning. Before each practice, the boys and girls each do some reading and math. A coach or volunteer discusses their work with them one on one, to ensure comprehension. A good job earns a baseball card. Next, it is to the gym for a light workout all before practicing baseball skills. The group then finishes the two-and-a-half-hour session with a small game among themselves.

The Rotarians were quick to help with the reading and even donated several books to the program. In addition to the baseball cards, the Rotarians rewarded the children with a sing-along. Mike Hogg is a retired PhysEd teacher. He has coached basketball and football as well writing, implementing and evaluating curricula for the public schools and the National Coaching Certification Program. He is also a musician who sings and plays guitar and harmonica. His friendly demeanour and easy-going style had the baseball players singing and clapping along.

Laura Chatterton is the team's strength and conditioning coach. A personal trainer, who coaches varsity volleyball, she specializes in leadership training, nutritional counselling and fitness. She shared her unique perspective: "Throughout my professional career, I've always supported the concept of 'the power of play.' I've been fortunate to have spent 20 years delivering various types of active learning opportunities for children, teens and adults, encouraging personal growth, developing lifelong relationships and promoting healthy lifestyles through recreation and sport." Chatterton stressed that coaches and teachers do not need a lot of expensive equipment to engage in youth sport. What is needed is a creativity and imagination. The books were made available for donation from the Federation of University Woman.

Jean Montgomery is a basketball coach and a referee with a background in social work and mental health. "Professionally, I provide mental health/suicide prevention and stress management training," she said. Montgomery introduces some new and easy activities to the team. She used fun games as both an "ice breaker" and a "warmup" for the boys and girls.

THE ROTARY VTT has visited and worked with a variety of groups, including the drummers at Oranje School, basketball players at both Melford Hazel Sport and Recreation Centre and L.B. Scott Sports Auditorium. They have also visited the soccer programs at Cruft Court in Belvedere and Raoul Illidge Sports Complex. At each stop, they have donated sporting equipment, including balls, whistles and jump ropes. The team also donates books.

Among the books are Miriam Laundry's "I Can" series, featuring I Can Believe in Myself and I Can Make a Difference. Believe in Myself talks about confidence, self-esteem and letting go of fear, while Make a Difference is the story of a classroom of small children that goes out armed with the power of kindness to have an impact on the world: Important lessons for all children, everywhere.

The Rotary VTT has certainly made an impact on The Friendly Island through kindness. With hugs and promises to keep in touch through facebook, the group will not be forgotten. VTT has shared stories, sports skills, songs and lots of smiles and is slated to return to Canada on Tuesday, March 31.

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