Church reaches thousands with year-round program _lowres

Photo provided by Istrouma Sports Organization -- Istrouma Sports Organization volunteer flag-football coach Rhett Brown gives his players certificates for their performances.

Istrouma Baptist Church of Baton Rouge is scoring big with its faith-based, year-round sports program.

Thousands of people of all faiths — or no faith — participate in sports, including little kids’ T-ball and flag football, international soccer and softball, baseball, extreme sports, basketball for teens and basketball, pickleball and fitness classes for adults.

Located just south of I-12 along Airline Highway, the church features two baseball fields, a large multi-purpose area for soccer and other sports and an indoor basketball court. Hundreds of parent/adult volunteers provide coaching and other support.

Istrouma Sports Organization is headed by M.L. Woodruff, former legendary baseball coach for Parkview Baptist Schools. Four years ago he started Operation First Base, a one-day baseball clinic in January held at BREC parks around the Metro area, hosted by East Baton Rouge schools and the BRAVE program, and taught by high school and college baseball players.

About 1,000 youngsters participate each year, and all of them receive free baseball gloves, bats and baseballs, a nutritious lunch and hear a short gospel presentation.

“We want to use the sport of baseball to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Woodruff said. “We’re playing baseball in areas of Baton Rouge that don’t have baseball anymore. Baseball has become an elite sport and many kids just can’t afford it.”

More than 200 youngsters are playing flag football each weekend at the church’s fields, and registration is currently open for a new “performance enhancement program” for ages 8-14, girls’ fast-pitch softball, boys’ fall baseball clinics, basketball and adult pickleball and basketball.

A complete list is published in The Advocate Sports section “Fun and Fitness Calendar” and online at the church’s website .