How much difference can one Christian sports league make in a community? If you live in Duluth, Minn., the answer is beyond measure.

For more than 35 years, the Rookie Basketball Association (RBA), a program of the Duluth Corps, has planted spiritual seeds and nurtured good character and sportsmanship in the hearts of thousands of kindergarten through eighth graders. With nearly 100 adults who volunteer to coach the 500-plus children in the program each season, the RBA’s reach is expansive.

Salvationist Kristin Mallet, director of the award-winning program, said the RBA is more than a sports league.

“The heart and soul of the RBA is for the love of Jesus,” said Kris. “We holistically train our players so that they are learning more than just basketball skills.”

The RBA focuses on developing its participants in mind, heart and body by teaching “marks of excellence”—for instance goodness, kindness, patience and selfcontrol—based on the fruit of the Spirit. Although not all players enter the program from Christian homes, parents overwhelmingly support the biblical values taught through the RBA.

“Who wouldn’t want their child to learn what it means to be patient or to show self-control?” asked Kris. “These are character traits all parents want for their kids.”

All RBA players engage in team activities which emphasize the fruits with examples of how they are evidenced in sportsmanship. Coaches begin practices with a huddle and short talk, highlighting a new fruit each week. Players then practice showing it in their attitude and sportsmanship. For example, they learn a player shows self-control when he or she chooses to pass the ball to an open teammate rather than keeping it to themselves. Likewise, congratulating other players and opposing teams on their success shows kindness and goodness.

According to Kris, the RBA is as much a ministry as it is a sports league.

“Our program is a seed-planting initiative,” she said. “We’re planting these faith-based seeds in their hearts and their minds, and we’re trusting that God will take it from there. I can’t change hearts, but I can plant seeds and water them.”

Evidence of the program’s impact long after participants have aged out is seen in the community. Many have used the skills they learned in RBA in other sports and activities throughout high school, and some have played college sports. Many volunteer and serve their communities, some even as RBA coaches.

“The ripple effect is massive,” Kris said. “As we engage with our players at the kindergarten level, we are instilling in them these values that will prepare them for life in 10, 15, 20 years.”

 

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