The Experience Church donates cleats to Bridgeport High

BRIDGEPORT — While the last couple of seasons haven’t been the best for the Bridgeport football team, the Bulldogs recently received a gift that will help them put a good foot forward towards restoring the roar.

Robert Valentin, student pastor at The Experience Church in Lansing, presented all 25 members of this year’s squad with a pair of brand new UnderArmour high-top all-purpose cleats.

“We’re The Experience Church and we’re right here in Bridgeport. One of our hearts is for Bridgeport,” Valentin said last week during Bridgeport’s media day on Perkins Field. “One of the things we decided a long time ago, as a church, is that we are defined by things. One of those things is our radical generosity. We do this because we don’t want something from people, we want something for people.”

A couple of years ago the church purchased a ticket for everyone that came to a certain football game.

“We do stuff like that, not because we want our names in the newspaper or we want someone to see what we are doing, we do it because we want something for the people.

“Our church is all about people. There aren’t a lot of churches like that,” he added.

According to Valentin, the idea came about during a meeting between himself and Bridgeport head football coach Fred Ray.

“I wanted to meet him so I called him and asked if he wanted to meet for lunch one day,” Valentin recalled. “We got to talking and I asked him if there was anything the church could help out with. He told me that a lot of our kids struggle with money and their families are struggling. He said the previous year they had some kids that had trouble getting the cleats and stuff they needed.

“I told him I had a crazy idea,” Valentin admitted. “We’ve partnered with some other local organizations and they’ve donated and stuff like that, but what if we, the church, do this. As they say, the rest is history. The kids love them. They are wearing them now.”

“I think it’s big for us, especially with the situation we’re in,” Ray said. “This shows the kids that there are people out there in the community who are behind them, supporting them. We’d like to thank The Experience Church for their generosity.

“The kids were really excited when they saw them. They were really appreciative.”

Bridgeport Athletics Director Greg Harkness replied, “Obviously, this is a very generous gesture. We appreciate all that they do to help our athletic programs and the school in general. I’m sure our kids were very thankful and appreciative of the gift.”

Valentin added, “For these students, we just want to bless them. We know here in the (Ohio) valley that it’s hard on a lot of people … and families. When you have to buy a pair of cleats for football season, soccer season, baseball season and everything else is going on, some families cannot afford it, so we just wanted to outfit the kids in a pair of high-quality cleats for this season.

“We gave them because we believe in this team. This is just us being radically generous in a different kind of way that we’ve never done before. I think it’s cool that we get to help students.”

“TE” is stitched on top of each shoe in the back.

Valentin works under Tim and Linda Seidler, pastors of the church.

“They gave us the go-ahead. They were really excited about this project,” he added.

Bridgeport will open the season Saturday, Aug. 31 against Weirton Madonna at the Dave Bruney Football Complex in Martins Ferry.