Frisbee matches ultimately lead to something bigger

Contests are a draw for youth ministry

By Kevin Spradlin

* Photo gallery – more than 800 pics

ROCKINGHAM — It’s been raining much of the day and the temperature peaked at 40 degrees. If that.

The field beside Mount Olive Baptist Church is nothing but a giant puddle. C.J. Smith eyes the field and smiles.


Kevin Spradlin |' Ultimate frisbee is supposed to be a sport with little, if any, contact. That's not always the case with a jump disc.

Kevin Spradlin |’
Ultimate frisbee is supposed to be a sport with little, if any, contact. That’s not always the case with a jump disc.

Smith, the church’s youth pastor, is not alone. With him stand between 25 and 40 teens. Sometimes more. Begging pardon from area postal workers, these people will work through rain, snow, sleet or hail for a chance to be Ultimate frisbee. Ranging between formal and recreational, depending on who shows up each Sunday afternoon at 2, each match serves as an opportunity to relate to youth on their own terms — and can lead to more important conversations off the field of play.

“It’s kind of weird how it all started,” Smith said. “It just started with some of our kids at Mount Olive. We decided to play one Sunday.”

It was intended to be a one-time event. It’s been anything but, and “after a while, we started playing every Sunday.”

It’s gotten to the point where the kids don’t even bother sending Smith a text if there’s inclement weather. They know the answer: He’ll be there.

“People,” Smith said confidently, “don’t question if we’re gonna play. Everybody knows, come to Mount Olive at 2 o’clock.”

The weekly Ultimate frisbee contests have brought to the field young athletes who don’t attend Mount Olive Baptist. Smith said some attend smaller churches that don’t offer a youth program. Others don’t attend anywhere else. Last September, a youth event coordinated between Mount Olive, Second Baptist and Freedom Baptist served as a stage to gather all who might be interested in playing.

Kevin Spradlin |'

Kevin Spradlin |’

They showed up. They played. And from there, “it’s exploded.”

“Did I plan for it to be a huge outreach event? Not at all,” Smith said. “We had one week we had like 60-something kids. We’ve had over 200 students come out and at least try to play just in the last two to three months.”

Players come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a member or two from Richmond Senior High School’s football comes out to play. Sometimes it’s a wide receiver or tailback. Sometimes it’s a lineman.

The games are likely the most perfect type of event. After all, Ultimate players regulate themselves. There are no referees. There is no instant replay.

“Ultimate stresses sportsmanship and fair play,” according to sport rules published on “Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules, and the basic joy of play.”

Kevin Spradlin |' C.J. Smith, youth pastor at Mount Olive Baptist Church, is using Ultimate frisbee to reach out to youth.

Kevin Spradlin |’
C.J. Smith, youth pastor at Mount Olive Baptist Church, is using Ultimate frisbee to reach out to youth.

The games give Smith an opportunity to talk with youth when he might not otherwise know what’s going on in their lives — or even know them at all. One regular Ultimate player lost his grandmother a few weeks back. The players huddled on together on the field.

“We took time to just pray for him out there,” Smith said.

Another young man survived a rollover car accident. It offered Smith a chance to reach out to the family.

“I had no clue who he was six months ago,” Smith said. “Ultimate frisbee is a good way to know kids I otherwise wouldn’t have known.”

The games, Smith said, allow him to indirectly build relationships “that lead to other conversations.”

“For me, that’s the No. 1 part of youth ministry. If they don’t know you, they could care less what you have to say.”

Kevin Spradlin |'

Kevin Spradlin |’

Early on in Ultimate play, Smith realized that Sunday afternoon games featured mostly white players. That was a problem.

“God’s not color-specific in any way,” said Smith, who took over the church’s youth ministry a little more than four years ago after relocating with his wife from Greenville, S.C.

He said Ultimate frisbee has brought out players of all ethnic types.

“It’s definitely been a great way to build relationships.”

Have disc, will travel

Smith, 26, is less than three weeks shy of the start of his first international mission trip. On Feb. 12, he will fly from Miami, Fla., to Guatemala City in the Central American country of Guatemala. After an eight-hour ride covering 239 land miles, he and other missionaries will arrive in Poptun, in the El Peten department of the country.

Kevin Spradlin |'

Kevin Spradlin |’

Smith and other missionaries with Light of the World Ministries, based in Jacksonville, Fla., will spend a week distributing repaired wheelchairs to children who can’t afford them. He’ll also help build three houses for the less fortunate.

“It’s gonna be tiring, but at the same time it’s gonna be rewarding,” Smith said.

The mission trips began about three years ago when Smith and students from Mount Olive Baptist’s youth ministry began visiting Jacksonville Beach each summer with Light of the World Ministries. Smith said he plans to “learn the ropes” there this year and perhaps as soon as next year be a part of a Mount Olive Baptist-organized team.

And yes, “I’m taking frisbees down there.”

Kevin Spradlin |'

Kevin Spradlin |’

“Soccer’s probably bigger down there,” Smith said. “They probably don’t know what a frisbee is.”

Chances are they’ll soon find out.

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