SPORTS: Dental students connect to inner-city football teams
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)--Dental students in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center have embraced two seemingly unrelated terms: mouthguards and ministry.
For the past two years, the UTHSC/BCM dental students in Memphis have made custom mouthguards for inner-city high school football teams. This year the students chose Booker T. Washington High School in south Memphis. Poverty has taken its toll on the neighborhoods in that area, with many on the high school squad unable to afford proper mouth protection.
UTHSC student Matt Teale noticed the need two years ago at another Memphis school, Overton High School. After talking with Overton High's head football coach, Teale saw where he and his classmates could make a difference. Teale, a third-year dental student at the time, decided to call companies who make mouthguards for professional athletes and ask for donations.
The companies didn't donate the actual mouthguards, but they did give the materials to make the protective gear. After assembling a team of eight dental students involved with the BCM, along with one of their professors, Robert Hatch, they met with the team, made the impressions, formed the molds and customized the mouthguards and distributed them to the team mid-season.
This year, Teale, now a senior at UTHSC, assembled his team during the summer before the season began. Teale described the mouthguard ministry as "the perfect opportunity to use the gifts God has blessed us with to serve Memphis."
The ministry has grown in popularity among the other BCM students as well. This year the BCM increased its number from eight third-year dental students to 22 students from all four dental classes and one second-year pharmacy student.
"Doing the actual service is exciting to us, but there is no greater reward than to see the football players get genuinely excited about the finished product," Teale said.
The team's 45 players received mouthguards made of clear professional-grade plastic customized to fit their teeth. If they had purchased such gear, it would have cost them more than $100 each. A BCM representative shared a Gospel message with the students and coaches after they delivered the mouthguards mid-season.
"Interacting with the kids, talking to them and hanging out with them, re-living the glory days -- all that stuff is relationship building," Teale said. "The one-on-one interaction gave us a chance to let them know the real reason why we were out there."
Bryan Gill is the Baptist Collegiate Ministry director in Memphis, Tenn. This story first appeared in the Baptist and Reflector (www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. For more sports news, go to BPSports at www.bpsports.net.