Coach Who Sticks With Young Athletes Receives We Raise Grant
Many gangs are now recruiting children as young as middle school age, when adolescents are vulnerable and looking for someone to invest in their lives. So, it’s more important than ever to provide these youth with people who will invest positively in them.
Dan Schmidtke, head basketball coach for Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Mo., is one of those people investing in children in a proactive, positive way. In February 2021, he received an Emerging Leader Grant from We Raise Foundation for Bethlehem’s Basketball Ministry, which has been a pillar in the North Saint Louis community for many years.
Schmidtke is a lifelong member of the church. He graduated from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Ind., with a degree in exercise science and works as a physical therapist assistant. In addition – and something that certainly gives him solid repute in the eyes of the boys he coaches – he played semi-professional basketball for the St. Louis Trotters for four seasons.
And though basketball skills are important, Schmidtke’s main goal is for his players to have a better understanding of who Christ is and how faith in Him can change their lives.
“A lot of these kids are lacking a spiritual structure at home as well as the educational and financial structures that gives children opportunities,” he said. “They mess up frequently, but I need to remember that I was given certain structures at home that got me out of bad habits as a kid, so they need more chances.”
The grant enabled Bethlehem to get a much-needed new scoreboard for their gym at the church. More importantly, the grant also allows for off-season Saturday basketball camps. The camps give the kids a safe place to go where they can improve their skills as well as listen to mentors from the community talk about life and faith. Prayer, short devotionals, and Bible readings are also coupled with the program.
The camps are a way to recruit new players, but they also serve as a way for Schmidtke to keep in contact with high school age previous players who he recruits to practice with the boys.
“A lot of guys will be more apt to respond to a text about a basketball camp than they will about church and that’s okay at this point in their lives,” says Schmidtke. “It gives the other coaches and myself a chance to talk to them and emphasize their faith as they grow older.”
This ties in with Schmidtke’s “Stick with Them” approach. He finds it crucial to keep in contact with his players, many of whom are used to adults dropping in and out of their lives. He offers them rides to church and encourages them to keep worshipping in the off-season.
An example of how successful this ministry has been can be seen in Carlos and Lavon Smith, brothers who have been in the program for several years. Not only have the boys shown development in their basketball skills, they’ve also become regular worshippers in the church. They’re involved with youth group activities and even attended the National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas, earlier this summer.
“I would like to thank the We Raise donors for their generosity and belief in our ministry,” said Schmidtke. “We hope for continued confidence as we share God’s word with our players.”
It’s no small thing that, thanks to donors like you, children from economically and socially oppressed neighborhoods have a chance to eschew the path of gangs, drugs, and violence in favor of people who will invest quality time, hope, and the light of God.