By Mari Pothier | firstname.lastname@example.org
John Pietkiewicz had never been out of the country until last summer, when he went overseas to play basketball and spread his faith.
Pietkiewicz was a part of a program called News Release Basketball whose purpose is to spread the word of God in European countries through the sport of basketball. According to the program’s website, it was formed in 1972 by a group of young men who wanted to share their faith with people in Europe.
Last summer, Pietkiewicz joined a News Release basketball team and traveled through Germany for three weeks. Pietkiewicz said he and his team went to Munich, Lorch, Straubing and Dusseldorf where they would set up a camp in each city. Pietkiewicz said he and his teammates would interact with the underprivileged German children in the camps, talk about their faith and at night play basketball against pro-German teams.
“They thought we were all like NBA superstars just because we were American basketball players,”Pietkiewicz said about the children.
Pietkiewicz said the kids were his favorite part about his experience. He said during camp he and his teammates would put on skits, sing worship songs, have daily messages and follow a spiritual theme throughout the day. Even though the children could not speak English, he said they enjoyed the worship songs because they all incorporated hand motions.
At night Pietkiewicz said the kids would watch and cheer for them as they played basketball. The children he mainly dealt with were 10- and 11-year-old boys. Pietkiewicz said he still gets messages from some of them on Facebook and tries to stay in touch.
Bo Clark, head coach of Flagler College men’s basketball team, said Pietkiewicz is a wonderful role model for children and has had him work at his own basketball camps.
“Just the way he plays, he really keeps his demeanor at an even keel and you know at the same time he wants to win, he’s a super competitor, but he has strong faith and like I said he’s been a pleasure to coach,” Clark said.
Pietkiewicz said his team was undefeated against the pro-German teams they faced. He said his team’s victory was because of its great players, and the pro-German teams are not as advanced in basketball as the U.S. After graduating from Flagler he hopes to get a contract and play for a professional basketball team in Europe.
“I would like to do it as long as I can but unfortunately it’s not that easy,” Pietkiewicz said. “It’s very, very hard to get a contract over there, really, really hard.”
Most of the guys on Pietkiewicz’s News Release team were in their 20s and were from all over the U.S. He said they were all great and shared his love for basketball.
“By being a great teammate I mean someone that is positive, enthusiastic . . . unselfish, very giving and John is just a tremendous teammate.” Clark said. “In fact he might be one of the best teammates I’ve had in my 24 years at Flagler.”
Pietkiewicz also said by going to Germany he realized how much he loved home.
“I enjoyed Germany, but going to a different country for the first time you realize just how great your country is,” he said. “It’s just made me thankful for living in America because it’s such an awesome country.”
While in Germany, Pietkiewicz said his faith was strengthened by the experience and his teammates. The team also regularly held Bible studies.
“It kind of made me reexamine my life here in the States.” he said. “It definitely helped me grow in my faith. I realized there were some things I would like to switch up in how I was living and it was definitely a bit of a wake up call for me.”