Weston’s Ava Wright, 9, is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm – especially when it comes to the annual Saints International Christian Athletic Association track and field meet at Tradewinds Park in Coconut Creek.
After easily winning the 50-yard dash and being congratulated by her fellow competitors, Wright quickly took her position for the start of the 100-yard dash, which she also won against 12 other runners.
“This is a blast,” said Wright, who is home-schooled like the other youngsters involved in the Christian-based meet. “It is not that important to win. It was cool to beat a bunch of boys in the last race.”
Wright is among the participants in the Saints’ program, which provides physical education opportunities just as a student would receive from a traditional school.
Saints International founder and president Rick Andreessen said there are similar programs in three other states (Texas, California and Nevada) and four countries (Guatemala, Zambia, Kenya, Haiti). In all, Saints International has a membership of around 10,000 children.
“There is no greater feeling in the world than to put a smile on the face of a child and let them feel proud of themselves,” said the 57-year-old Andreessen, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. “[Our coaches] love these kids unconditionally on the athletic fields and we are honored to work with such incredible families.”
Activities, which take place from August through May, are geared toward those ages 5-18 and include, along with track and field, sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis, flag football and golf. The program offers both morning and afternoon sessions lasting three hours.
Each session begins with prayer, followed by a station rotation each composed of 30 minutes of activities and separated into appropriate age groups.
“Our mission is to develop a safe place [for youth] where no matter what their athletic ability is, they are all winners,” said Andreessen, who noted that hundreds of youth participated in the track and field meet at Tradewinds Park. There were 10 events: long jump, 50-yard hurdles, 100-yard hurdles, 50-yard dash, 100-yard dash, standing broad-jump, softball throw, shot put, discus and the mile run.
A “diaper dash” was set up for one- and two-year-olds, along with a “toddler trot” for three-year-olds and a pre-kindergarten “quick kick” for four-year-olds. Participants in all categories received a gold medal and a completion certificate.
“We hope to create a sense of family in the community,” Andreessen said. “We also have a fundraising banquet in the fall and a kickball tournament in June. One thing I am proud of is that in our 19 years, we have never turned a child away due to finances.”
The program costs about $625 per child annually and there is a sibling discount.
Lighthouse Point’s Vanessa House has four children in the Saints’ program.
“I love that they have a place to go and be with other home-schoolers where they can connect and be with another community of friends,” House said. “They get a lot of physical exercise and this is their PE class so they are learning what to do. There is a lot of socializing…this program is amazing.”
Adam House, who at 9 is the eldest of the four children, said he likes Andreessen and all of the activities.
“I get to be with my friends,” he said. “I want to win. I like doing victory dances.”
The youngest in the House family, 6-year-old Hudson, said he likes playing a tag game called, “Sharks and Minnows,” which is also offered by the Saints’ program along with the regular sports choices.
“I come here to have fun,” Hudson said. “It is cool to have my brothers with me.”
Gary Curreri can be reached at SportsCom5@aol.com.