By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
A basketball game at the “Gem” drew its first crowd last Thursday evening. No, that’s not a misprint; the “Gem” is spelled correctly!
The “Gem” is a multi-faceted youth activities facility located at Maulsby Cove. The 15,000-square foot structure, built by Jewel City Church, features a gymnasium that can double as a large banquet/reception hall comfortably seating 600; a ‘chef’s dream’ commercial kitchen complete with roomy fridges, freezers, ovens, warmers, ice machines, etc.; handicap accessible restrooms with showers; and an upstairs devoted to all sorts of youth activities such as a practice area for young musicians, wrestling team practices, and a safe ‘hang-out’ for those who want to play pool or ping pong. Youth do share the area for men’s and women’s events as well.
When weather does not permit outdoor play, Little League practices are held at the Gem; Pop Warner cheerleaders practice there; and Lincoln freshman basketball team practices are held there too! These are among a few of the “facets” of this “Gem”! And also on the property is a softball field utilized by the Lumberport Middle School team as well as a community league.
Last Thursday evening, however, all the focus was on the basketball arena where for the first time youth leagues faced off for their initial game.
Pastor Robert Shingleton explained, “We started this new basketball league for kids to fill what we felt was a need because when they reach a certain age, kids can no longer be involved with Jerry West basketball … and not every kid makes the cut to play on the high school team. But with our new league, these youth can still be involved in organized sports. They still learn things like discipline, teamwork, sportsmanship, and skills. But more importantly, we want to give them a strong message about the importance of good morals, making good choices, and ultimately to develop them into good men.”
Jewel City Church was delighted to have over 30 young men sign up for the new league! And they hope it will catch on and grow in future years. There are two coaches per team and three teams that play. Coaches are all volunteers from the church and men who have basketball experience. A nominal $2 admission is charged to enter the games, money which helps pay for the certified referees who call the games.
After a couple of months of practice, one hundred spectators turned out for the first game last week and they seemed impressed by the large electronic scoreboard mounted on the wall and team t-shirts worn by the players. Pastor Shingleton also lent some humor to the evening by doing the play-by-play!
“The league is open to anyone – not just those from our church,” Shingleton stressed. “In fact, a large percentage of our players are from outside our church – coming from not just within our community, but traveling from Mannington, Fairmont and Doddridge County to participate. It is the same way with all of our youth activities; anyone is welcome! Our purpose is not to build membership at Jewel City Church, but to build the Kingdom of God,” he noted.
Eric Miker joined the Jewel City staff as youth pastor in June of this year. He emphasized that some kids come from a single parent environment and perhaps don’t have an active male figure in their lives, so they gravitate to a coaching figure.
“It was important when choosing coaches to select positive role models and those who truly have an interest in the kids,” Miker said.
A Shinnston native and former rhythm guitarist of the Dove Award-winning Christian rock group DecembeRadio. Miker lends his musical talent to the church’s youth band and praise team musicians as well as serving as youth pastor.
Miker added, “Many of our youth helped with the finishing work at the youth center, so they feel like they are part of the investment here. Plus, the atmosphere is cool and inviting and that makes it an attraction for young people. They look forward to coming here; it gives them something to be involved in and it builds a good foundation.”
A group trip has been planned as a special treat for their participation and practice commitment. League players and their coaches will all be attending an upcoming Mountaineer basketball game at the Coliseum in Morgantown!
The Gem is just one of many visions that has come to pass over the church’s 21-year history. More additions are planned at Maulsby Cove. Already, the initial blocks are in place for an adjoining Junior Youth structure that will offer activity space for children from three years to 5th grade. And yes, the church itself will eventually occupy a large space connecting to these activity centers.
Pastor Shingleton stressed that the church’s mission is to help wherever there is a need. And the Gem has already had the occasion to fulfill that mission – and not just by providing youth activities. The Gem hosted approximately 100 World Vision volunteers who were in the vicinity on a mission excursion. The Gem was their home base; they slept there, showered there and were fed there while in the local area.
“Our world is in such turmoil and people everywhere have imperfections,” he concluded. “We have to reach out and help one another. If we’re going to have a brighter future, we strongly believe that developing a relationship with God is the best place to start.”