Kids get a kick out of unique Vacation Bible School

jdela@bradenton.comJune 26, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- About 30 young children each grabbed a brightly colored soccer ball and huddled near Butch Morley as he explained the skill they would learn that day.

"Dribbling," he shouted. "Everyone say it with me."

"Dribbling!" the kids shouted back.

About 80 children ages 4-12 are participating in an unusual Vacation Bible School this week at Summerfield Community Park sponsored by Cornerstone Church of Lakewood Ranch. The church is teaming up with a Bradenton-based nonprofit, J316 Ministries, which combines sports and faith.

Morley says J316 is committed to providing kids with exercise, teaching basic soccer skills, sportsmanship and Christian values.

"We talk about life skills, respect, honor," Morley said. "And to instill a passion for the game."

J316 Ministries always works with a local church to put on camps, Morley said.

Amanda Bontrager, children's ministry director at Cornerstone Church, said the camp is a fun and a popular twist on a traditional Vacation Bible School.

"It's the most we've ever had for a VBS," she said. "It's something different. It's appealing to a lot of kids."

The J316 curriculum meshed well with church objectives for VBS.

"That's our goal, to teach John 3:16. That's our message," Bontrager said.

The youngsters weave past cones as they practice dribbling skills, as Morley, a South Africa native, blends in with many of the adult volunteer coaches. He passes a ball across the field, a crisp, on-target kick that shows he's done this before.

"I played," Morley said.

As a young man, he was recruited by the English Premier team Stoke City and trained with legendary British goalkeeper Gordon Banks. But a professional career eluded him.

"I didn't make it. So I played for my local club" in South Africa, he said.

Morley's J316 Ministries travels around the country doing soccer camps and will soon branch out with basketball camps. He hopes to add volleyball and American football camps in the future.

J316 Ministries also plays at IMG Academy, where Morley leads a weekly Bible study for the U.S. Under-17 men's national soccer team members who live and train there.

"It's fun to see some of the boys go on to professional careers," he said.

While J316 Ministries holds camps across the country and in places such as Guatemala, the colorful soccer balls designed especially for J316 ministries are offered online at, for purchase or to donate.

Jim DeLa, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @Jim DeLaBH.

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