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Valpo "Breakfast Club"

Olivet Nazarene football coach Eric Hehman talks Monday to the "Breakfast Club," a group of Valpo high school and middle school athletes who meet regularly at the Valparaiso Nazarene Church. Ten of the boys will be going on the church's mission trip to Guatemala in July.

VALPARAISO — It started out modestly enough, a few Valpo High School sports dads getting together to shoot the breeze over a bite to eat.

Three years later, food remains a key component of the meetings, but the "Breakfast Club" has evolved into a place for current and future Vikings to meet and to make a difference in their community.

"The dads all coached in Pop Warner, the youth sports leagues," Shawn Evans said. "We watched the boys grow up. We said we wish there was something we could do for them."

A few boys, friends and teammates dating back to fifth, sixth grade, started gathering at Schoop's for breakfast before school on Wednesdays. As word got around and interest quickly grew, they needed a new place to meet and Evans, the pastor at the Valparaiso Nazarene Church, opened his doors.

"A couple of us wanted to do something," Evans' son Jake, a Valpo football and basketball player, said. "We have FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) at school, but it's hard to get there. It started out as a small group and it's really gotten big."

When the high school ended late-start Wednesdays, the meetings were moved to Monday evenings, but the fare — stacks of pancakes and sausage with juice and milk — remained the same. Upwards of 50 boys are involved with 25 to 30 attending on the average, as their practice schedules allow.

"We didn't want to give up the meetings," Shawn Evans said. "We'll eat, we'll talk. I'll give them a challenge, like asking them how they carry their faith onto the field. We're done in about an hour."

Missionary work has always been at the core of the church's volunteer work and its intersection with the club has brought boys of varying religious beliefs together for good causes. Among the activities, the boys have volunteered at a local men's homeless shelter.

"Some attend church here, most don't, some don’t attend church at all," Evans said. "There's a lot to be learned about other cultures, to make them realize what they have. There's a stat, I think it said, if you make more than $26,000 a year, you live better then 99 percent of the world. Giving's always better than receiving."

This summer, 10 of the boys will be a part of the church's trip to Guatemala, where they will do light construction and work with children at sports camps and bible school.

"It's a good opportunity to see how it is in a different part of the world," Gunnar Pullins said. "I've never been out of the country. I have no clue what it's like."

Jake Evans has been going on church trips with his family since he was 4. Each trip is unique and rewarding.

"It's still very eye opening," he said.

Reece Crossin went on the church's mission trip to Puerto Rico, where they helped build a church foundation. It reinforced everything he's always been told at home about helping those in need.

"It was a good experience," Crossin said. "Obviously, you hear it from your parents about the less fortunate, but to actually see it first hand, the slums, kids with no shoes, no water, malnourished dogs, it makes you think about it more."

Noah Comstock belongs to Liberty Bible Church, where his grandparents go on mission trips annually. He went with them to the Dominican Republic.

"It was a blast to connect with the kids after we got done with the work," he said. "Every time I go, I realize it again."

The Guatemala trip will be during the first week of July, during a sports dead week, so no one will be missing any practices.

"I'm anxious to see how we work together," Crossin said. "Sports is one thing. This is a whole different challenge."

All the turmoil surrounding the Valpo football program at the end of last season cultivated a perception of spoiled, entitled players. The Breakfast Club's endeavors suggest otherwise.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.