Team mixes competition, fellowship on the field

'We all have the same goal in common, so it's kind of like playing against your family,' said one team member.
LIBERTY -- Don't let their friendly faces fool you -- these guys want to win.
As the team of men donning green and gold T-shirts warms up on the softball field, their goals become apparent when their coach calls them in.
"It's about God first and foremost," said Shawn Malinky, shortstop on the Victory Assembly softball team. "Secondly, it's about fellowship and unity."
Coach Rodney Croyle gathers the team in, not for a pre-game pep talk, but for pre-game prayer.
The team prays together before every game.
"We reinforce each other and back each other in prayer on any personal or family matters that may come about," said Malinky, an Austintown resident. "We continue to pray for these people until they get better -- we believe in miracles."
Victory Assembly's team is one of eight church teams in the Church Hill Park softball league.
The team finished the season during the last week of July.
Both Malinky and Croyle agreed that being a church team doesn't make them less competitive.
"Usually your first impression is that a church league is just a bunch of guys playing softball, but we're very competitive," Malinky said.
Croyle said the church teams in the league are just as competitive as secular teams.
"We enjoy competition, and the whole league is about that -- about Jesus and lifting him up, but also winning; it's a lot of fun," said Croyle, a Hubbard resident.
"Jesus gave us a spirit of excellence, so we do everything with a spirit of excellence, and that means competition."
Team unity
Malinky explained that putting God first and foremost in their hearts and minds helps unify the team.
"I think that every person on this team plays a big part in our winning or losing," he said. "We all have the same goal in common, so it's kind of like playing against your family."
He added that fairness is important to the team, so everybody gets a chance to play.
"We try to respect the game the way that God would have us respect the game," said Malinky.
The Victory Assembly softball team formed four years ago when church leaders wanted to start a sports ministry. Croyle, who said he loves playing sports, automatically agreed when asked to coach the new team.
"I like it because we took a bunch of guys that we hardly knew and we became one," said Croyle, who added that although the team is coed, there are no female players this year.
Malinky, who has been playing softball with the church for the past two years, joined the team for the camaraderie.
"There's a lot of friends here, and everybody made me feel welcome when I came to the church, as well as the team," he said.
For Malinky, being on the team means more than just playing ball.
"It's more about coming out here and fellowshipping, and truthfully, it's about joining with your other brothers and sisters in Christ," he said.
Croyle agreed.
"It's not just about softball, it's about lifting each other up as well -- on and off the field" said Croyle. "That's more important to me than anything out here."

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