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Volleyball: Game of love
Mission trip brings teens, club together
Volleyball WEB
Intensity Volleyball Club members play a match against a Dominican team. The Club joined with Fellowship of Christian Athletes to bring students from Lambert, South and West Forsyth to the island nation. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

"The Americans are coming; the Americans are coming; the Americans are coming," shouted one little girl as she ran to deliver the good news to her village.

Those Americans were 14 teenage girls, 10 of whom are high school sophomores and four college freshmen, and Bryan Johnston, the director for Intensity Volleyball Club. Johnston joined with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to take members of the volleyball club in late June from Lambert, Northview and South and West Forsyth high schools.

The group stayed one week in the Dominican Republic to help teach volleyball to elementary and middle school girls while showing benevolence to children.

"It was a love mission," said Johnston, entering his fifth year as director. "The girls really got a lot out of it.

"One of the girls I coach on the team, her dad, [who] is actually on staff at FCA, approached me about it. They’ve never had a female sports’ ministry go to the Dominican Republic, so they’ve done baseball for a very long, long time and that’s kind of been the dominant sport down there, but it was a good opportunity for us to go down…because there’s not that much opportunity for females on the island."

The IVC spent half of each day teaching volleyball basics at either a local gym or park to as many as 60 girls before spending time with children playing kick ball, painting fingernails or swapping stories through a translator.

"They really like to play with your hair or paint your nails," said Lambert sophomore Sarah Henry. "The boys love baseball, so we played that with them, too.

"I absoultely loved [the trip]. I’m already signed up to go back next year. "

The girls played about 15 games with some Dominican club teams and against the junior national team at the Olympic training center. Although many of the Dominican squads were older than the IVC members, they still managed to win half of the games.

"It was interesting," Johnston said. "[The Dominicans] are known for fudging their birth certificates to play a lot older than they actually say they are. A 19-year-old saying they’re 15 and a 22-year-old saying they’re 19. It was truly about the competition, but we went about .500. …The competition was stiff at times. We were literally playing against young women."

The biggest change may have come off the court.

Like most teenage girls, they were accustomed to checking social media and texting throughout the day. However, since the Dominican Republic doesn’t have cell phone reception, they had to resort to basic forms of communication, something Johnston found funny and rewarding.

"We were in a third-world country," Johnston said. "There is zero cell coverage and we live in this generation of teenage girls where they have Facebook, Instagram and texting, and none of that worked. …There was no Internet, so they were just left to socialize with themselves and that was the cool part.

"After a couple of days, they didn’t even realize they didn’t have that kind of stuff and I think that was absolutely part of the experience. They got to take in the culture and obviously got to know each other."

The trip was so successful that Johnston has scheduled a trip in June of next year.

"It was just a great trip. Playing with the kids in the church village [was my favorite]," Lambert sophomore Maya Keator said. "They would remember your name and two or three would attach on to you.

"I really would like to go back. It was awesome."