George Fox Men’s Basketball Team in El Chorro, Panama

Living out their team motto, “MBFO” (“Men Built for Others”), members of the university’s men’s basketball team left the comforts of home in mid-August to spend eight days in the impoverished community of El Chorro, Panama, building a multi-purpose sports court.

All 16 players on the roster, joined by head coach, Maco Hamilton, and two assistant coaches, lived in host homes and teamed with a local construction crew and community members to build a court that will serve as a safe place for children to play. Previously, the isolated town of 700 had only an improvised dirt court with wooden hoops.

“The research shows that giving kids a place to play makes a huge impact on communities,” Hamilton says. “It lowers the violence, creates opportunities for them, brings people closer together. Sports have such a huge impact on lives across the globe, and the kids of this community had little to nothing in terms of facilities.”

The concrete court – designed for basketball, volleyball and soccer – was built through Courts for Kids, a national organization whose mission is to “transform lives through building courts and cultural exchange.” This was the first such trip for the men’s program; the George Fox women’s team constructed a court in Ghana in 2008.

In addition to prepping the site and pouring concrete, the George Fox crew had the opportunity to interact with host families, visit an orphanage, and – with cell phones turned off and the temptation of social media removed – bond with one another around games and friendly competitions. “A few of us were in a race to see who could get the most bug bites. I think I won, with 40-something,” Hamilton laughs.

For Hamilton and the Bruins, the trip accomplished two things: The team grew closer together and the Bruins learned in a tangible, hands-on way what “MBFO” means.

“We want all our guys to leave our program as servant-leaders,” says Hamilton, who serves on the Courts for Kids board. “We want to debunk the typical societal view of what it means to be a man, which is being macho, showing no emotion, attaining success at a high level, seeking prestige. We want our guys to understand that being a man is about being emotional, having compassion for people, serving, sacrificing, and being impactful in your societies and in your communities.

“That’s why this trip was so important. It got us outside our comfort zones and reminded us of the importance of serving others – of doing something for someone else.”

Hamilton hopes to make a Courts for Kids trip about every three or four years, allowing all players coming through the program to experience it at least once.

Sean Patterson- George Fox University

For other trips, the purpose has been to build the court and also to learn from the community.  This trip had a bigger purpose for me, personally.  On those other trips, I went with people I didn’t know.  This was my basketball program that I am in charge of so we had specific goals we wanted to accomplish as a team.

The biggest goal was that we wanted to teach our guys the importance of serving and sacrificing, which is an essential part of who we are.  Second, we wanted to begin that process of building connections and relationships within our program.

At the end of the trip, our team did a final reflection, which is common for Courts for Kids groups on trips like this.  We asked them three questions about their experience in Panama.

  1. What positive experiences did you have on this trip?

Every player mentioned how incredible the team bonding was on this trip.  This was the first time this group of players were together because there were 9 returning and 7 new players.  A big thing for our program, the core of our culture, is our relationships with each other.  And this trip helped expedite that process of bringing the players to a level of comfort and trust with one another.

Along these lines, the guys also talked about their interactions with their host families and the relationships they established with them.  This was an overwhelmingly positive experience.

  1. In what ways were you impacted the most?

One of the most common answers from our guys, since this was their first immersion experience of this kind, was how kind everyone was.  The hospitality people showed.  Their interaction with our group.  The way the people maximized what they had and how they did everything with grace and enthusiasm.  These were all experiences that really positively influenced our guys.

  1. How has this trip influenced your perspective on life?

The most common response to this was that it gave them a renewed appreciation for what they have and the luxuries that they are afforded.  Secondly, it put into perspective and gave them a motivation to make the most of what they have.  They really noticed that the people in the community had minimal resources, but yet they maximized those resources and got so much out of them.  That was eye opening for our guys and they wanted to incorporate that into their lives.

Maco Hamilton, Head Men’s Basketball Coach