At CCV Stars, we utilize a More Than A Game (MTAG) philosophy that emphasizes life skill development so that each child can win on and off the field. We want to partner with parents to further develop the character and integrity of their children based on Christian values.
Christ’s Church of the Valley: https://ccv.church/
CCV Missions: www.ccv.church/missions
Let’s Go 360: http://letsgo360.org
Pastor Larrie Fraley: linkedin.com/in/larrie-fraley-53445032
Nick: [00:00:02] Yeah, that's amazing. We always think about who we're going to serve and almost every trip you come back, probably more changed thanwho you thought you were going to change. And we've seen such neat opportunities where our teams have been able to go and, like you said, interact with people that don't even speak the same language. But we've taken our more than a game curriculum, turned it into other languages to be able to build that bridge of community, to be able to worship with people in another language that you don't understand, but, you know, you're serving and worshipping the same God. Those are the moments where you really kind of pinch yourself of man. Just God is so much bigger than us. And such a good reminder when we get out of our environment and experience someone else's culture.
Larrie: [00:01:16] Well, welcome to another episode of Let's Go 360 we’re all the way up to episode 35. It's kind of hard to believe that since the first of the year we've done 35 episodes. You can find all the episodes on our website, or on your favorite podcast application. Hey, today is a special episode because we're going to talk about a ministry that's probably had one of the greatest impacts to CCV, our Youth Sports Ministry. STARS Youth Sports started way back in around 2004, and it has grown to levels that we've just hardly we can hardly imagine what God has done through this vital ministry. And with me today is the pastor and director of STARS Youth Sports, Nick Demos. Nick has been on staff for some time now and he has done an amazing job. He has created such a dynamic leadership team across all of our campuses, and we're going to find out what God is up to, in the Valley today. Nick, welcome to the show.
Nick: [00:02:20] Thanks for having me. Big fan of the pod. Excited to be here.
Larrie: [00:02:23] Well, great. Hey, listen, tell us a little bit about yourself and maybe your family.
Nick: [00:02:28] Yeah, absolutely. So I grew up a bit unusual. We grew up part Greek Orthodox and part Catholic. So I kind of grew up with the faith and God and Jesus, but didn't know much and wasn't very active. And it was actually when I got to CCV, my dad came to CCV before I did and started telling us about this great church. It was, was super practical and engaging and started coming to CCV, got here and for the first time was really, really mentored with, with the Bible and reading the Bible for the first time on a regular basis. And, and CCV was just a place that I really became the owner of my faith and taking it deeper. And my wife Anna and I started at CCV here in 2008, and we were both baptized here. We've got four young kids that are fully plugged in here at CCV and just love it.
Larrie: [00:03:22] And you also have a new dog?
Nick: [00:03:24] I do. We have a new dog. We've got Cosmo is keeping us on our toes. That has upped our prayer game a bit.
Larrie: [00:03:30] It is. That's almost like another child.
Nick: [00:03:33] Yeah. Yeah. A few sleepless nights, a few spills. It's keeping us busy.
Larrie: [00:03:38] Well, let's jump right in to the STARS. So STARS started way back in the early 2000s. And now it has become a powerhouse not only in our community, but it's been a role model throughout the country. And I think it's probably safe to say that STARS youth sports here at CCV is probably one of the largest youth sports ministries in the country. Is that right?
Nick: [00:04:01] Yeah, for sure. It's it's really, as you said in the intro, it has surpassed anything I could have ever imagined when we joined the staff. And when I think about the metrics, the numbers, it's really wild and so grateful to be a part of a thriving church like CCV that's, that's made that possible. And we've had a lot of great opportunities to, to be mentors to other churches and to kind of help other churches even launch sports ministries. And that's one of my favorite parts of the job is to be able to just help another church use sports to connect people to Jesus. And that's as simple as it is, whether it's youth sports, adult sports, fantasy sports or EA Sports, any way to use sports to reach people for Jesus? We're rooting people on and been able to help quite a few.
Larrie: [00:04:45] Well, take us through a brief history of how the ministry got started and how it's grown over the years and how God has grown that ministry.
Nick: [00:04:53] Yeah, well, as legend goes. Pastor Don and yourself and some others used sports at local parks and volleyball nets or soccer teams as a way to connect people to Jesus. And here at CCV in 2004, at our Peoria campus, is when STARS officially launched and started with rec soccer and club soccer. And over time has grown to add football and basketball and baseball and in the last decade has really grown across the valley. So as CCV has grown, so has STARS. So this fall were we're operating at 13 different campuses and getting ready to add a few more in the very near future.
Larrie: [00:05:32] So how many kids are actually participating in STARS?
Nick: [00:05:36] Yeah, it was pretty wild. Last year was the first time we had over 20,000 youth participants in our leagues and on our teams and just wild to think about how STARS is creating this pathway for people to engage with CCV through sports. And then of course, the ultimate goal is that they move across the parking lot and come into relationship with Jesus and hopefully here at CCV.
Larrie: [00:05:58] With that many youth involved. How many coaches?
Nick: [00:06:02] Yeah, we had about 2500 volunteer coaches, so we're so grateful for them. They are the lifeblood of what we do. You know, there's a quote we use regularly. Billy Graham said that “a coach will influence more people in a year than the average person will in a lifetime.” So we know our coaches are the lifeblood. They're the ones that are either being great evangelists and being bold in their faith and inviting families to come to church or not. And the ones that are making an impact are, man, those are the model. That's what we're trying to find is those guys that are really passionate about not just sports, but sports ministry.
Larrie: [00:06:36] Well, I think many of us can relate to a coach, especially those that have played sports. I know as I grew up and got more involved in soccer, I was one of the few college and high school students that actually played soccer back in, oh, that would have been in the late sixties, early seventies.
Nick: [00:06:53] Yeah. Yeah. Soccer's come a long way in the country, for sure.
Larrie: [00:06:57] It certainly has, because I was a bit of an abnormality, I guess you'd say, because no one else played. And so when we moved to Arizona, we got involved in playing it. And I can remember growing up in football and baseball and soccer and the influence that my coach had on me. And that was purely from a standpoint of just coaching the skills and developing the relationship. The STARS, youth sports coaches take it to a different level. They're more intimately involved in the lives of these kids, right?
Nick: [00:07:31] Yeah. It's amazing. It's I mean, just today we got a note about a coach who had somebody on their team that was going through cancer treatments and could the staff pray for them. And we see coaches. There's just such an inherent trust in that role of coach. So so many times the family's hurting and the coach is the one they feel comfortable with calling on for help. And they build such a good community to where these families are together, at practices, at games. When there's a need, often they're kind of the first pastors on the ground, so to speak, and they can, of course, bring the STARS staff into it as they need resources. But we see community as one of the most important pieces that sports can bring.
Larrie: [00:08:09] Well, I know the listener base that we have on Let’s Go 360, there's a very good chance that someone listening today is either directly involved with soccer or has someone that they go and watch on the weekends or on Friday night. If you have not had the chance to experience what happens on Friday night or on the weekends at at STARS, youth soccer, I would I would encourage you to take a take a weekend and just go see that come out on a Friday night or whenever there's a game and you will just find a group of people full of energy. I mean, it reminds me of a Friday night football game. Is that a good way to describe it?
Nick: [00:08:50] It's really electric. There's a there's a ton of people out there and it's still sports, it's still kids. There's great competition and people are energized and excited and going for that win. But what we really try to make sure is our coaches are looking through that filter and that perspective of doing sports the right way. And that slogan that we use, it's on every jersey and shirt, “More than a game.” So yes, do your best, teach the skills, grow the kids, try to win the game, but getting rid of that kind of old school win at all costs mentality. So we're trying to get our coaches to understand, you know, their impact is going to be how they influence those families. And are they a role model for Christ, win or lose? We've had some of our best coaches have some of the worst losing records or worst records over the years. But they do such a great job connecting with their families. And other times they find success in both realms. But it really is an electric environment and a lot of fun, a lot of energy.
Larrie: [00:09:43] Well, I know our coaches really take their job and what they do with some great enthusiasm, but also great responsibility. They know they have in their hands a life of a child because they're going to be spending several hours potentially a week with this child. So the influence that the coach has on the child can be a game changer, especially in those years when they when they cross over from. Grade school into junior high. They're very influential years and those lives of those kids. Can take a direction during those years. And it's comforting to know that that we have some Godly coaches that are trying their best to pour into these kids so that they have a solid foundation.
Nick: [00:10:29] Yeah, they do a tremendous job. They spend time at every practice and game. So at each practice they'll have kind of a more than a game huddle where they'll go through, It could be a verse of scripture or a character or biblical figure attached to it. Sometimes it's Proverbs or Fruit of the Spirit or Armor of God, and they're spending time with their team each week trying to pour into the character of those kids and closing every practice with prayer requests and games. And we know that prayer is just such a window into the lives of what's going on at home, and that that creates opportunities for us to be able to hop in and support a family. And same thing after the games, you know, win or lose, both teams coming together, circling up at midfield, joining together in prayer is impactful. And because the outreach of STARS where you don't have to be a member of the church and in fact most aren't, that really becomes a great opportunity to where we know we have hundreds or maybe even thousands of kids every season are exposed to prayer for the first time or reading a verse of Scripture. So those are the things that really keep us hungry for what we do.
Larrie: [00:11:32] Well, it's certainly not uncommon to walk across the fields over the weekend and see teams praying together and teams praying together after the game, before the game. And so it's obvious that prayer is a very important element of STARS. Do you have a perhaps a story you could share, Nick, of a family or a or maybe a child or youth that that actually a transformation took place?
Nick: [00:11:59] Yeah, for sure. There are a bunch over the years and, you know, myself included, really growing in my faith. And I think of other people that came here as, as volunteer rec. coaches. And over time, they own their faith and even join staff. But one that comes to mind often is a good friend of mine, Bill. You know him because he's been involved with missions as well. But when I met Bill a dozen years ago or so, he was not engaged at the church. He was far from God. He had had a failed marriage and a couple of kids that he was sharing custody with. And Bill came here just for soccer. His son was playing soccer. He started helping out with the team. And as he started to get a little more curious about what CCV is all about, we actually went down to Rocky Point with 1 Mission and built a house and missions became a real passion for him and Bill ended up giving himself to the Lord. He got baptized. And to look to look now ten or 12 years later is incredible. Bill's been just a hero out there to me on the mission field serving multiple countries over the years. He's remarried. He and his wife are here at church every single weekend. They're serving whether it be small groups, pre marital. This is a guy that's just been on fire for the Lord for a long time. And he came through that STARS portal.
Larrie: [00:13:18] Now, you mentioned about some countries. STARS has gone on a few mission trips.
Nick: [00:13:24] We have. It has been a real blessing. You know, we've started off years ago going down to Rocky Point, doing some house builds with coaches. And that was incredible because, man, there's not many ways to get to know someone better than doing some manual labor and hanging out for a few days and sweating together. And that was really impactful to get to know a lot of our coaches deeper with our club soccer that's really created a portal and a pathway to help some other local areas build some connections. We've taken some of our teams down to Cuba, which has been incredible because it's just a country not many people have been able to go to. So that was really incredible to connect with some house churches down there. And a couple of years ago, pre-COVID, we took a couple of our club teams to Spain and that was great. Again, this house church movement that's trying to connect with their community and just like it is here for STARS sports becomes that that connection to bring people in together and able to connect with some local mission partners there. So that's been a tremendous outreach for our teams and we're continuing to look at how do we get them into that, that spirit of serving and create opportunities for them to give back and really serve as we saw Jesus do.
Larrie: [00:14:35] Well, I know from a missions standpoint, STARS and participating in mission trips is a key strategy. And we have just seen firsthand the changes that took place or take place in the lives of the of the youth and as well as the parents. And to be able to watch these kids from these other countries, to be side by side on this and playing soccer with each other and during the breaks and after the games and before the games, to be on the sidelines and watching those kids interact with someone from a different culture is such a growing experience on both of the youth.
Nick: [00:15:13] Yeah, that's amazing. We always think about who we're going to serve and almost every trip you come back, probably more changed than who you thought you were going to change. And we've seen such neat opportunities where our teams have been able to go and, like you said, interact with people that don't even speak the same language. But we've taken our are more than a game curriculum, turned it into other languages to be able to build that bridge of community, to be able to worship with people in another language that you don't understand, but, you know, you're serving and worshipping the same God. Those are the moments where you really kind of pinch yourself of man, just God is so much bigger than us. And such a good reminder when we get out of our environment and experience someone else's culture.
Larrie: [00:15:55] Let's shift gears for just a minute and talk a little bit more about maybe some opportunities within STARS now. It sounds like the main opportunity is coaching, but there's more ways to serve and volunteer within STARS than just coaching. Correct?
Nick: [00:16:11] For sure, yeah. Coaching is definitely our largest group of volunteers, but we have a few other areas where people serve because many don't feel called to coach or feel comfortable. At CCV and at STARS, we try to create an experience that's just unlike anything else. So if you play for another league, you don't know who works there, there's no contact. There's no guest services, no first impressions, it's just sports. So we try to do things differently. So we have people that are faithfully at the gates greeting people, welcoming people, walking them to their field. Some of these environments have 15 fields going on at the same complex, so it requires some people to help visitors feel comfortable, find where they're going. So we have a lot of people that are really helpful and that that range of all the campuses. We have, again, 13 campuses. They have fields that need to be lined or basketball courts that need to be washed. So we have a lot of people that give faithfully of their manual labor efforts and come out and get the facilities ready. And Friday Night Football might go till late in the evening on Friday night. They've got to flip the fields quickly for soccer starting the next day. So we have a lot of people, guest services helping with our operational sides and even a few people help in the office administratively. The organizational effort needed to have 20,000 kids on teams is quite an effort. So we've got a lot of faithful volunteers.
Larrie: [00:17:34] So how many soccer teams are there? Total.
Nick: [00:17:37] Oh, boy, that is a big question. We've probably got 1000 soccer teams going at once. Just this fall, I think we'll have over 10,000 kids playing. So again, across the valley and one of the neatest things, as we've added campuses is we've even got quite a few leagues and divisions where the campuses are playing against each other. So they might travel to another site for some of their games and interact with other campuses, which has been a neat experience for the kids.
Larrie: [00:18:06] Well, if you do the math, that's a lot of soccer balls.
Nick: [00:18:08] And sure is. Yeah, we've got a great team that makes sure these campuses are all equipped with equipment and uniforms and signage and the people that work for the STARS development team kind of headquarters here do an amazing job.
Larrie: [00:18:24] What about the tournament? I know there's an annual tournament that takes place. Can you talk to us about that?
Nick: [00:18:29] Yeah, that's a great outreach. So every January, typically MLK weekend, our club soccer hosts the Champions Cup, and this is a tournament that's going to pull in 350 to 400 teams, not just from around the state, but sometimes neighboring states. And it's a really great opportunity for the STARS name and brand, so to speak, to get out there and for us to be in the world, but not of it. And that's really one of the big benefits of our club soccer program is they're really ambassadors. They're the ones going out and playing clubs that are not CCV, that are not STARS. They host this tournament that brings all these people in. And that's then where we have an opportunity, again, how we handle ourselves, how we treat people, how we welcome them, a chance to try to reflect Jesus in the church. And hopefully when the time comes for them to be interested in a church, they know about CCV. And as we continue to expand across the valley, hopefully there's a church within 20 minutes of them and we hope that they can make that connection.
Larrie: [00:19:29] Well, as you know, one of our core values is excellence. And so this tournament and I can vouch for it because I grew up playing soccer and club ball, I've been to a lot of different soccer tournaments and the quality of the tournament that STARS puts on is exceptional. And so congratulations on that and hope you're able to continue that because, you know, the STARS is divided into kind of two groups, right? There's a there's a recreation development group and then there's then there's some competitive sides to it, too, as well. Can you talk to us about that?
Nick: [00:20:04] Yeah, our club site operates kind of in four regional areas, so to speak. So up in the northwest valley, the southwest, the south and then the east. And this is an opportunity for those players to come through the recreational program, but maybe are ready for a new challenge. And instead of having to go somewhere else for that, there's still a place for them within STARS. And it does it attracts people from other parts of the valley, from nearby people that might not know that much about TV. But as you mentioned, our team has worked really hard to make sure the excellence is high there. There are some churches that put on sports programs and there's not much effort on excellence or competition. And they just kind of are trying to offer something and doing the best they can. And that's where we try to help some churches. But our guys are really make it make it top notch. And at these tournaments, we're creating skill zones and fan zones and things to engage people and getting our church staff out there to engage with the other people. So Club Soccer brings great awareness of CCV and STARS across the valley. And as you mentioned, the amount of time coaches spend with kids, they practice a little bit more on the club side. And our hope and prayer is that that extra time turns into deeper relationships. And these coaches that are evangelizing are being bold and getting their kids across the parking lot and into a relationship with Jesus. And we've seen that happen countless times.
Larrie: [00:21:34] Talk to us a little bit about the training that a coach might have to go through. I mean, there's a heavy emphasis on security, right?
Nick: [00:21:42] Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So all of our coaches have to go through, we even have police officers and FBI agents that are surprised at the extent they have to go to coach their kids rec soccer team, because we don't accept any other agencies, fingerprint cards or anything like that. We won't have the most up to date information. So all of our coaches are going through a rigorous process of a physical application of an in-person conversation with the pastor. And we're getting to their past. We're trying to figure out, do we think they're going to be a threat to children. We know the safety of these kids is our first priority. So we vet our coaches strenuously. They even go through a course called Ministry Safe, which is kind of a sexual abuse awareness training and things like that, to keep our kids as safe as possible and then pass that. On the sports side, you know, we know there are some coaches that they grew up playing the sport. They loved it. They were ready to run. Other coaches, maybe it's new to them. So we make sure all of our coaches get training, get curriculum, get equipment, make sure that anybody that that wants to coach can. And I know as a dad that's been able to coach three of my kids so far, old enough to play, those are memories that I know, man. I'm so grateful for now. And I know when they're old and no longer playing and out of the house, these are going to be the times I really look back and I'm grateful for. So we have many coaches that jump into coaching. They're not quite sure they're hesitant and ends up being such a blessing to them.
Larrie: [00:23:15] And then they go through some pretty extensive background checks. It's not it's more than just the superficial background check. You go a little bit deeper in background checks, correct?
Nick: [00:23:23] They do. Our security team does such a good job and making sure that these kids are safe. And like I said, they've got applications, background checks, and there are there are different levels of background checks. Like you said, some are more surface or a shorter window of time, ours are pretty extensive. And that's created some ministry opportunities with some coaches. Maybe they have a past and we can come alongside them, but also making sure that we prioritize the player safety first.
Larrie: [00:23:51] Well, as we begin to wrap up here, what some things coming down the pike, are there any future innovative things coming up?
Nick: [00:23:58] Well, we've got a few things. We, just this season, are launching for our More Than a Game huddles have historically been trading cards. If you picture an old baseball card and we still do some of that. But for the very first time where we're launching video messages so a coach can pull out his phone and display a quick message and then lead towards conversation times in the huddle. So that's new, just trying to keep up with the technology that kids are used to and try to keep them engaged for short bursts. Really excited about the expansion, both the CCV and STARS. Just this morning, my team was out walking and praying over one of our upcoming campuses, North Surprise and so excited to see they're putting light poles in and the sprinklers are in and grass should be going down in a couple of weeks. So those are really exciting for us to think about, not just going into a new area or adding another campus, but really praying over all those homes and the new construction in that area, that the sports will be a part of someone's story of how they came to know Christ.
Larrie: [00:25:02] Well, how can we pray for you, Nick?
Nick: [00:25:05] I think just as we expand, as we continue to get across this valley, as we continue to find the right people to lead. That's an area that we're constantly in prayer for. There's nothing that we can do ourselves to find the right, the right staff, the right people, the right locations. We really are heavily in prayer for where is the right location that we can make an impact for him and who are the right people? Sports Ministry is not a traditional ministry field where there's going to be a lot of people that have degrees in it. Different than a kids pastor or a students pastor where they go to Bible College for it. Sports Ministry is a pretty new field. And like you said, we're kind of the largest in the game right now. So we're often finding people that have not done sports ministry per se, but they love the Lord and they love sports and they figure how to blend those passions. And God's brought us some amazing people.
Larrie: [00:25:59] Well, we certainly love you, Nick, and you're doing just an amazing job. And thank you for joining us today. And I look forward to maybe another episode where we might have you and a coach on and see what God is doing in the lives of a coach that's actually coaching. And I know you, coach, but. To have someone that is within our congregation who can come on and share their story would be, I think, something our listeners would like to hear. For those of you that. Want to know more about CVS STARS. You can go to their website at CCVstars.com. I'll include it in our show notes so that you can check that link out, see what's going on. There's places there that you can volunteer. And again, please get out and check out the games and check out what's going on in the weekend. It's a great, great experience and they have a lot of food. So. Nick, thanks for joining us.
Nick: [00:26:55] Thank you. My pleasure.