Originally created 03/09/02

Intramurals courting fun among all faiths



Maybe they should have practiced a bit more, but Muslim Zubair Chao and Catholic Emili Ballweg aren't worried.

No matter who wins a plaque at the end of today's second annual Interfaith Intramurals basketball games at Patriots Park, the most important action will be off the court.

"The purpose is just to have fun," said Aparna Balan, an organizer and youth coordinator for the Hindu Temple Society.

About 100 teens representing Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon and Muslim faith communities in Augusta are expected to register at 9:30 a.m. with the first tipoff at 10.

In between matches, youth will get to meet each other, said Emili, a 17-year-old senior at Aquinas High School. "It sounds really fun."

She e-mailed schoolmates and friends from various parishes to get players for a Catholic boys team and a girls team. Few of those signed up for the intramural event play competitively for their respective schools - this competition is casual.

Zubair watched the games last year but will play this year. The intramurals are a great idea, he said, because they "bring people of all faiths together."

Playing is fun, "but the main purpose is to get to know our peers of other faiths and get to know more about them and (learn) to be tolerant," he said.

The idea of using sports to bring various faiths together surfaced about two years ago among the Hindus. When it came up again last year, everything fell into place - though it was last minute, Ms. Balan said. Teams from the Hindu, Jewish and Muslim community played at Augusta Preparatory Day School in Martinez last January.

Aware that word-of-mouth had generated more interest, organizers looked this year for a bigger gym to accommodate more teams.

"We have been encouraging (players) to get friends and families to support the event," Ms. Balan said. Admission is free. The Indian community will help out with crowd control and concessions.

Benjamin Kay, an attorney and member of F.A.I.T.H. of Augusta, an organization that promotes religious tolerance and understanding, will be the featured speaker at the end of the event.

Sports offer an opportunity to bring the wider Augusta-area community together and unite as one, said KunalSharma, a 17-year-old senior at Evans High School who will play for the Hindus. "Especially after Sept. 11, it is important for us as a community to be accepting and tolerant of all the different faiths and religions that we have in our society."

Evans classmate Melissa Borup, 18, and her Mormon teammates like to play basketball every chance they get, she said. The intramurals will be "a fun kind of thing to do."

WANT TO PLAY?

Registration for the second annual Interfaith Intramurals will be at 9:30 a.m. today at Patriots Park gymnasium, 5445 Columbia Road in Grovetown. Admission is free. For more information, call 868-3458.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.