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  Religion and sports have always had a tumultous relationship. How do players handle the choice between making the game and securing salvation?

Keeping the faith


By David Hamilton

Heather Werkman is a soccer player and first-year nursing student at Mohawk College - and a devout Christian.

She believes Sunday is the day of rest, when worshippers break from work to honour the seventh day of the week, when the Bible says God rested from creating the world.

“I wouldn’t be able to participate if we had a game on Sunday,” says Werkman, who once chose not to attend a tournament because she would not have arrived home by Sunday.

Werkman’s coach, three-time OCAA Coach of the Year, Renzo Castellani, understands the commitment players have to their religious convictions.

“I have no quarrels. I try to cope as best as I can and try to fill in the voids . . . and it’s not that they don’t want to play – they really love the sport, but it’s in their religion so I really respect that,” says Castellani, who has been with the Mountaineers for 14 years.

According to OCAA executive director Blair Webster, Sunday is an easier day for players to take off than most.

“There is an unwritten rule that games are generally not held on Sundays,” Webster says.

However, this may pose a problem for athletes whose sabbath falls upon Friday or Saturday such as Jews, Moslems and Seventh-day Adventists.

At the busy corner of Spadina and Bloor in Toronto is the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, home to a large gym and recreation centre.

MNJCC’s life and education director Randi Sokolsky says disrespecting the Jewish custom of Shabbat – the day of rest beginning Friday evening and ending Saturday evening – while once a stoneable offense, is now a choice.

“It’s very, very individual and personal,” she says. “If a Jew decides that they want to work out, then that’s their choice.”

For Seventh-day Adventist and varsity basketball player Jeremy Alleyne, 19, balancing his religion with playing for the Humber Hawks is difficult and has caused tension between him and his father, Dennis.

“We observe the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday,” says his father, “and when [the team goes] away I don’t know what happens, and that’s what I’m really concerned about.”

For his part, Alleyne says, “it comes down to balancing your life and you have to know your priorities.”

Redeemer College student Darren Hoogendoorn, 22, studies history and religion, and plays varsity soccer and volleyball.

Observing a day of rest, he notes, doesn’t necessarily involve taking Sundays off.

“You have Jesus in the New Testament saying to all these people, ‘is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, is it lawful to heal others on the Sabbath?’” he explains. “And the Pharisees get all up in arms because to them the Sabbath was a bunch of rules. But the Sabbath is rest.”

He compares this approach to how pastors work on Sunday and instead rest on Monday.

The OCAA doesn’t schedule Redeemer on Sundays, Hoogendoorn adds. “Because for most people at Redeemer, Sunday is a day of rest.”

While some players take time away from the court to worship, many players see spirituality as something inseparable from their game.

According to Redeemer assistant athletic director Betty Steenbeek, students are encouraged – but not compelled – to take time to pray before every game to give thanks to God. It’s also a way to acknowledge that their ultimate goal is to “glorify God” with their efforts, she says.

“Within the prayers themselves, we take time to thank God for our talents – Godgiven talents allowing us to show God in what we do and how we compete.”

With files from Meaghan McBride