Students are gaining self-confidence, building relationships, and learning leadership skills through co-ed sports programs offered by SJA’s Boys & Girls Club.
“Sports allows the students to connect with each other on a different level because they have to trust each other,” said Dominica Johnson-Tirado, manager of the Boys & Girls Club. “They uplift and encourage each other. They play better with each other. The connection is there.”
The Boys & Girls Club, the largest youth-serving agency in the City of Milwaukee, started a chapter at SJA during the 2018-2019 school year. Flag football and basketball were the first sports offered to elementary and middle school students. Adding soccer came next. Between the different sports, the Club had around 30 participating students.
The SJA Club students played games against other students in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee region, but winning was not a top priority.
“The kids just wanted something to do with other kids that they didn’t care about competing,” Johnson- Tirado said. “I remember going to games and people would ask, ‘Why are they so excited they lost?’ Winning or losing wasn’t important. They were just excited to play and a part of the team.”
The students transitioned from playing against other Club teams to playing against Milwaukee Public School teams in the MPS recreational league. During the 2019-2020 school year, the Club continued to see growth. Basketball had 17 students on the middle school team and 15 students on the elementary team. The elementary & middle school basketball teams won a combined 11 games, lost five, and forfeited two. The volleyball team, compromised of 14 elementary students, won 24 games and lost 20 games. Soccer saw wins too; students in grades 1-3 played in eight games and students in grades 4-6 won five games and lost one.
“Our kids are talented,” Johnson-Tirado said. “They are very, very talented.”
The sports programs are about more than just playing and competing, Johnson-Tirado said. The curriculum incorporates social and emotional learning, healthy eating, proper breathing techniques, fitness and endurance, and celebrating positive actions from team members.
“Our students are so passionate about serving each other and helping each other,” she said. “I think it was a skill they always had there, but I think sports has helped enhance them to be servants to others, have a voice, and bring out their positive leadership skills.”