Witnessing through sports

  • The first camp in 2015. There have been more than 400 participants in seven years in AIM programs, and those programs have reached more than 5,000 kids and their families through camps, games, and tournaments. - TIMELESS 2 U PHOTOGRAPHY

  • Reaching out through sports, AIM has connected with more than 5,000 kids and their families through a plethora of sporting events, camps, and tournaments — including volleyball. - TIMELESS 2 U PHOTOGRAPHY

Brian Ford founded Athletes in Ministry in 2015 in hopes of spreading Christianity through sports.

AIM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that focuses on changing the lives of youth through fellowship and participation in sports.

Ford was inspired by a memory he had in 1995 when he was a child at a Christian sports camp.

“It was an ‘aha’ moment for me that you can put sports and Christianity together,” Ford said. “It really made a difference in my life.”

Ford hopes that he can make the same difference in children today as it did for him through AIM.

There were many parts that had come together that led him to create AIM, beginning with that memory.

He was attending his daughter’s swim meet and saw a man with a hat for 323 Baseball, a travel team out of Maryville that combines sports and faith. The team’s name comes from Colossians 3:23, which also happened to be the address of Memorial United Methodist Church, where Ford had been serving as youth pastor at the time.

“It all went together,” Ford said. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ She told me ‘If you want to do it, go for it,’ and I never turned back.”

Ford began by starting a travel baseball team of his own with his son’s age group in the spring of 2015. By summertime, he began growing his ministry through a sports camp at Jaycee Park.

Ford had done four years of travel baseball before the pandemic brought that to a close for the time being. However, AIM also started a club volleyball team, which has steadily grown from one team to five in the three years since the beginning.

Through AIM, Ford has had a clear vision since the start and has been able to grow that vision. He initially sought to start something similar to what he had seen back in 1995 and move forward from there.

He wanted to show that sports did not have to be separate from being a Christian. Through AIM’s travel teams, the youth did not need to miss out on church for tournaments every weekend and instead bring it with them.

“The biggest thing was us reaching out to the kids and showing them that there is more to it than just the sports,” Ford said. “What is on their uniform is who they are representing, it’s about what’s on their chest, and the name on the back represents their family. We wear the cross on our chest and it’s like ‘okay, we’re a little different.’

Ford looks to be a mentor to the kids and make a difference in the way that those before him made an impact on his life.

“I see it as ‘that person has made an impact on my life so why should I not make an impact on a kid’s life,’” Ford said.

While he enjoys making an impact on lives in the youth, he hoped that he can make a lasting impact that carries throughout childhood and into adulthood. Ford said he is beginning to see those from his first camps and teams grow into remarkable people.

“You don’t see the fruits of your labor within the first years,” Ford said. “It’s right now seven years down the road that you look back and say, ‘oh wow.’ I’m not looking for that necessarily, I’m doing God’s work and trying to do what he’s asked me to do, using my passion for sports and love for him to show that.”

As for future plans for AIM, Ford has goals of expanding past travel teams and camps by giving the athletes opportunities for their future. For example, he recently took three of his volleyball girls on a college visit. Ford aspires to continue finding opportunities that will set the kids on the right path in life.

Ford simply wants to send a positive message to the youth around the area.

“The biggest message is that we are here,” Ford said. “We are here to love on your kids and show them sports and God all in one package, changing as many lives as we can.”