By Dedra Cordle
Larry Taylor was full of uncertainty.
It was June 1, the first night of the young adult open gym basketball program, and there was a little voice in his head telling him that no one would come.
“That’s not fair,” he told himself. “After all, who doesn’t love to play basketball?”
Though his confidence flowed, so did that persisting nugget of doubt.
As a member of the Reynoldsburg Church of the Nazarene, which was also the site of the open gym, he turned to his faith for guidance and fellow program founders, Pastor Dennis King and Children’s Minister Cheryl King, for support.
It was nerve-wracking, he said, leading up to the opening of the doors to the gymnasium.
Much to his relief, however, people did show up that night.
“We had about 12 or 13 kids come out that day,” said Taylor.
It was a sight, he said, that warmed his heart.
“To be able to offer children or adults a warm and safe place to have fun is something else,” he said.
Harboring the warm feelings of that initial night and its success, the trio tried not to worry about the levels of participating in the following week or those thereafter. They had a sense, explained Taylor, that more would come, but that feeling of uncertainty reared its head from time to time.
In retrospect, they needn’t worry.
“Within a month or two we had 70 people coming out regularly,” said Taylor.
That level of participation continues to this day.
“It’s overwhelming, but overwhelmingly good to see,” he said.
Though the church has hosted open gym programs in the past, the idea to make it a weekly occurrence took shape in early 2016 while Taylor and the Kings were brainstorming ways to reach out to the community.
“We wanted to make a real impact,” said Taylor.
They asked fellow church leaders and the congregation if they believed this to be a good idea and it was met with much enthusiasm.
“I thought it was a terrific idea,” said Barth Cotner, who refers to himself as a big cheerleader of the program.
With a high level of enthusiasm, the program founders sent out a request for volunteers and donations of either food or funds to help pay to feed those who came to enjoy a safe night of basketball.
Unsurprisingly, Taylor said, the request was immediately met.
“The community support for this program has been tremendous since the very beginning,” he said, also referring to support from local businesses in that statement.
Since that night on June 1, the young adult basketball program has expanded.
They meet every Wednesday night, barring any holidays, and from 4-6:15 p.m. those between the ages of 14 and 17 have the floor. After food, prayer, some homework help and life discussions, those ages 18 and over take the floor from 6:45-9 p.m.
There is also an “Overtime” event on Sundays that starts at 5 p.m.
Taylor said one of the best things about the open gym program is that everyone gets a chance to play.
“This isn’t like playing in the park where the 10 best players get to play all the time,” he said. “Everyone who shows up gets a chance to play.”
Though playing the game is on the minds of those who come to play, the open gym has also become a place to hear inspirational messages from those who have overcoming hardships.
On Oct. 25, Ohio State basketball legend Clark Kellogg spoke to those participating in the program and Taylor said he hopes to get more athletes and motivational speakers involved.
“I think it’s a great thing for these kids and adults to hear from these people who have had a lot of problems in their life and have managed to overcome them,” he said.
As for further expansion of the program, including more days for open gym, Taylor said that is a possibility.
“We’ve been talking about it, but that might be well into the future,” he said. “We’re going to need a lot more volunteers and support to pull that off.”
Taylor said he has faith that will happen should they make that request.
“This is a great community,” he said.
To learn more about the program, whether it be volunteering or participating in the open gym, visit the Reynoldsburg Church of the Nazarene website at www.reynaz.com. Taylor said all are welcome to participating in the open gym basketball program. All you have to do, he added, was to show up and sign in.
The open gym is held at the church, which is located at 1340 Crest Road, Reynoldsburg.