Anthony Johnson knew it was a home run when the ball was kicked, as children positioned along the basketball court like a baseball outfield helplessly watched the rubber ball sail over their heads and into the upper portion of the brick wall inside the Bethlehem Baptist Church gymnasium.
Mr. Johnson, who directed the first Dodgeball/Kickball Classic Tournament at the central Toledo church yesterday, could only smile as one of the games between two summer youth camps turned into a rout.
Though home runs were few, the chances to meet and make friends, as well as the opportunities to receive mentoring from the adults on hand, were plentiful.
"Kickball and dodgeball are something nontraditional from football and basketball, but we wanted to do a sport where everyone could play and it doesn't matter how big or tall you are," said Mr. Johnson, whose regular job is as a mental health professional at Toledo Hospital. "I think it's very important to teach them new things, and they love it."
About 400 youths from six summer camps participated.
Mr. Johnson said his summer camp, Kidzone, started playing the sports against another camp run by the organization Chance for Change two years ago.
The idea of having a league with other summer camps came up to give children an alternative activity and to take advantage of the gymnasium space.
"Other camps didn't have the facility we have, so we specifically looked for other camps that didn't have a gymnasium and invited them to participate," Mr. Johnson said. "I think it speaks for itself that we have 400 kids here how successful it has been."
More importantly, Mr. Johnson said, the fun provides an alternative when many summer recreation programs have been cut or eliminated as funding has dried up. "I figure if we start this camp in the morning and keep them here all day, it's less time for them to be on the streets," Mr. Johnson said.
Leslee Jones will probably not get to see her son, Gernard, grow up to receive a scholarship in kickball or dodgeball, but it didn't stop her from taking some time off work yesterday to watch her 7-year-old play.
"He went to bed early to be ready for the games today," Ms. Jones said. "He's been very excited about this. When I would pick him up from camp, he didn't want to leave because he's having so much fun."
Mr. Johnson said what he hoped to do was to move the children away from the television, computer, and the street and have them experience fellowship through competition. He said the tournament is the climax of summer-long activities that included a league involving six camp teams. Kidzone won both the tournament's dodgeball and kickball competitions.
In particular, Mr. Johnson cited 7-year-old Thomas Shinaul, who played so well on a team with kids twice his age that it gave the youth a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.
"A lot of these kids haven't been on a team before," Mr. Johnson said. "They don't know about teamwork and working with other kids and communicating with them. These are the things we are trying to teach here beyond playing the game."
Thomas said the camp has given him something different to do over the summer. "If I wasn't here, I would probably be riding my bike or playing PlayStation all day long," he said.
Kidzone is a summer camp run by House of Bread Ministries at Bethlehem Baptist, 1430 West Bancroft St. Other summer camps that participated in the tournament included: Footprints Day Care, 3215 Lagrange St.; East Toledo Family Center, 1020 Varland Ave.; Quality Time, 2315 Dorr St.; Humble Beginnings II, 3934 West Laskey Rd.; and Chance for Change, 7 East Bancroft St.
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