Nashville UMC's basketball ministry 'assists' young men
By Kara Witherow, Editor
Treshaad Williams had always dreamed of playing college basketball.
The 19-year-old, a standout football, basketball and track star at Berrien County High School, even tried out for South Georgia Technical College’s team.
But when he didn’t make it, Williams returned to his full-time job as a Hardee’s cook.
His mentor and friend, Buster Montgomery, a member of Nashville United Methodist Church, didn’t let Williams let go of his dream. Montgomery urged him to practice every day, even driving him to and from workouts at the college.
This fall, Williams’ dream will come true when he dons South Georgia Technical College’s red and white jersey and steps onto the court as a Jet.
On April 23, he signed a full scholarship to play basketball for SGTC, a two-year college in Americus. He’s the third player from Nashville UMC’s basketball ministry to sign with a college basketball program.
“I always wanted to play college basketball,” said Williams, who plays forward and plans on studying criminal justice. “Now that I’ve got it, I just have to keep my head straight and step my game up.”
Every Tuesday evening, about 30 young men meet in Nashville UMC’s fellowship hall to shoot hoops, socialize, and hear messages of salvation and inspiration. As the town’s only indoor basketball court that’s not in a school, the ministry attracts a lot of basketball-loving students and has grown steadily since it was started more than three years ago.
“The church has a little goal outside and they used to shoot there,” Montgomery said.
“One day we said, ‘Why not let them play inside?’ We have a nice indoor basketball facility and it just evolved from there.”
None of the basketball players are church members. They don’t attend worship services and aren’t part of the youth group.
But the congregation has a loving, mission-minded spirit and wanted to use their resources to reach out to students who might not otherwise have a place to go or something positive to do.
“This church is an ant bed of mission activity,” said Nashville UMC pastor Rev. Russ Elkins. “The congregation has a heart for local missions and for trying to have an impact for Christ in Nashville.”
In addition to providing a safe, indoor place to play basketball, the church members feed the young men physically and spiritually.
The evening begins with a short prayer and devotion before players are divided into teams. After playing basketball for about an hour, everyone gathers to eat and to hear a message. Montgomery usually delivers a lesson from scripture, but he often invites successful businessmen to speak about life and job skills.
“Some of these kids don’t even know where they’re getting their next meal,” he said. “And some of the things we talk about they may have never heard before.”
Through the church’s open door and the biblical messages of love, grace and acceptance, Montgomery has helped develop in the young men hope and desires for different futures.
“Meeting their needs physically is a way to show them that God does love them and that there are people who care about them,” he said. “With God’s love and through God working through myself and others, hopefully that shows them that there is goodness, that there is hope for them, and there are people who do care for them.”
Montgomery seems especially equipped to oversee the ministry. A former athlete himself, Montgomery excelled at sports, playing baseball for Mercer University and being drafted by the Boston Red Sox.
Today, the timber broker and father of two divides him time among his family, his business and the ministry. Last year he attended more than 90 percent of one of his former player’s games, often travelling to Americus, Atlanta and Rome.
“I know that God has given me a heart for these kids,” he said. “Sports have always been a passion in my life, and these kids have become a passion in my life over the last three to four years.”
Montgomery has developed deep relationships with the young men, and they depend on him for more than just his courtside leadership.
“Kids text me every day, for different reasons. One may need me to help them study for their GED, and some just ask me to pick them up to take them to get something to eat.”
In addition to Williams, two others from Nashville UMC’s basketball program have been offered scholarships. Kentavious Clowers and Anthony Ethridge were both signed by SGTC.
Regardless of whether or not they go on to play college basketball, Montgomery and the other leaders have tried to instill in the young men the knowledge that God loves them and has given them special talents and abilities.
“God has blessed them with gifts, and we try to help them realize and find their gifts and strengths,” he said. “I’ve always told them that if they can figure out what their gifts are, and follow them and build them up they’ll be successful.”
The congregation has been very faithful in their calling to serve the community, Rev. Elkins said.
“If one of the guys needs a new pair of shoes, the word gets out and we find him a new pair of shoes,” he said. “Basketball is just the vehicle to get them in the door. When they get there they find love. They find love and support and encouragement. They’re accepted where they are and given a different possibility for the future.”