One of the underlying themes of the sporting world is the concept that the values and lessons imparted on the field of friendly competition will be used throughout an individual’s life.
Learning the importance of team effort and individual sacrifice in pursuit of a common goal exceeds the importance of the total score or the wins and losses accumulated over a career, and the ability to incorporate these lessons is part of what it takes to grow boys and girls into young men and women of character.
“Football is the backdrop that allows us to impact the community,” said Tony Kijanko who, in addition to his duties as the Tight End and H-Back Coach for the Dawson County High School Tigers, serves as the team’s Community and Character coach.
Coach Kijanko, along with his wife Dee, have been involved with the DCHS football program since 2017, and along with their passion for football, the Kijanko’s brought a sense of community service and faith that has blossomed amongst the young men in their care.
“Dee and I have led missions outside of the United States for the last five years through 410 Bridge,” Tony Kijanko said. “This year we had the opportunity to take several members of the DCHS football team, as well as other community athletes, along on our mission to Haiti from July 5 to July 11.”
According to their, website 410 Bridge “is a Christ-centered, non-profit organization committed to relentlessly pursuing healthy community development in nations confined by poverty.”
“We believe it's not as much as what we do as it is the relationships we build,” Dee Kijanko said about the group. “We share a heart for the nations and a passion to build lasting relationships as we go to serve a world in need.”
“We want them to know what their faith means to them, and their lives,” said Tony.
Along with the Kijanko’s, other members of the football
program on the trip were defensive end Zac Baloga, linebacker Robbie Rarick, defensive
lineman Justin Browning and defensive end Jason Browning.
It’s apparent when talking to the four players that the trip was an important part of their summer and an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.
“It was a great chance to bond as a team. For us to get to know ourselves and each other. Who they are, or where they want to go in life,” said Baloga.
The group did wind up spending a lot of time together as almost immediately after their arrival in Haiti, the U.S. Embassy issued a “remain in place” warning for Americans due to the potential for unrest because of a sharp increase in fuel prices.
In fact, riots and upheaval throughout the country, especially in the capital Port-au-Prince, kept the group confined to their compound for the duration of the trip.
“I was expecting a lot of meanness and hatred,” Rarick said, “but we got none, none at all.”
“The Haitians have nothing, but they have so much joy,” Justin Browning said.
Unable to travel to their destination village of Jon-Tal, the team approached the management of the compound and asked them what they could do to be helpful. After convincing the authorities that their offer of goodwill was indeed sincere, the team spent the next day assisting the compound by clearing and leveling a long unused tennis court and clearing debris from the local beach.
“This was an exceptional, exemplary team in every way,” Dee Kijanko said. “We found ourselves locked in for our safety and security by our organization and the US Embassy. Yet, not only were they flexible with great attitudes, they stood strong in faith, joyful in attitude and fearless in all that was happening around them.”
“The funny thing is, almost as soon as I landed in the States, I wanted to go back,” Jason Browning said.