A talk for the team

I tried to make the basketball team when I was in the seventh grade. After a few frustrating practices, the coach offered to make me the “manager” of the team, a position I accepted. I spent the next two years inflating basketballs, picking up towels in the locker room, and keeping score at the games. I got to hang out with the players and enjoyed myself without ever learning very much about the game. I wrestled in high school and went out for track in high school without ever earning any trophies for my school’s case. I didn’t see myself as an athlete and pretty much avoided competitive sports as the years went by.

Over the years I have enjoyed many activities that could be considered sports. I have done a fair amount of downhill and cross country skiing, I paddle cables and kayaks. I enjoy physical activities like hiking, walking and backpacking. But I don’t think of myself as an athlete.

I also have never gotten into the role of an ardent sports fan. I enjoy watching high school sports if I know the students who are on the team. I’ve caught a few professional baseball games over the years. Since we lived in Chicago I have declared myself to be a Cubs fan when asked about baseball. I’m a bit harder pressed when it comes to other sports. I don’t know the names of all of the players on the roster of any team. I don’t have a head full of statistics. I can’t recite the history of the game. I have to look up simple sports information that others keep in their brain.

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone at a local agency where I volunteer. The agency has a bulletin board in the entry way. There are ea number of football pictures on the bulletin board and in one corner there is a bunch of small football players. Folks who pass the bulletin board are encouraged to decorate a football with the colors and logos of their favorite team and add it to the decorations on the board. It is a way of getting to know a bit about the other people who work and volunteer in the agency. I noticed that a friend of mine had customized the exercise, using the term “football” the way most of the rest of the world uses it and making a custom soccer ball decorated with her daughter’s team colors. Mostly, however, I was stalling. The truth is that I don’t have a favorite football team.

For several years a church member challenged me to write up little essays on the Super Bowl and I complied, doing a little research on the competing teams each year. My problem is that I don’t follow the teams and their statistics leading up to the Super Bowl, so I have to scramble to appear even a little bit knowledgeable.

My son in law is a sports fan and he comes from a family where team loyalty is a big deal. His father has already announced that our newborn shared grandson will be a fan of the New York Giants during football season and the Washington Nationals during baseball season. Since I don’t really have favorite teams, he’ll get no competition from me. I’ve promised to teach our grandson to paddle a canoe.

So today I have a challenging assignment. I have a friend who coaches high school football and who used to coach college football. He has friends who are coaches in various colleges around the region. Through my friend, I was introduced to one of the coaches of Colorado Mesa University a couple of years ago. Today will be the fourth time CMU has played our l local South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. They play one game a year, alternating the home field. Last time CMU played in Rapid City, I was invited by this friend of a friend to share a short 20-minute devotion with the team on game day. I came up with something to say about teamwork and living for something bigger than yourself. I can’t remember quite what I did say. It was enough to have this particular coach decide that I’m the go to guy for team devotions when the Mavericks come to Rapid City. So I’m up for devotions this morning.

In a little while I’ll walk into a meeting room in a local hotel. I can count on two things. I’ll be the oldest guy in the room and I’ll be the shortest guy in the room. These football players are big. I think it is also fair to say that the optional team devotions aren’t the high point of these athlete’s day. They’ll be thinking more about the kickoff at 1 pm and the game to follow. I get that. Seriously, I’ll be more focused on the funeral at which I’m officiating at 1 pm, too. But for a few minutes, we’ll be sharing the same room and they’ll politely listen to me because they are disciplined football players and they are used to pep talks from coaches.

I’m no coach. I don’t even use sporting metaphors in my church work even though those are fairly popular among some of my colleagues. I rarely refer to the church leaders as our team. I don’t see my role in the church as the same as a coach of a team. It has a lot to do with my interpretation of Jesus call to his disciples to be servants. That’s a different kind of leadership than is exhibited on the football field.

As much as I’d like to come up with words that would inspire and have a small “wow” factor for the football team, it seems unlikely that any of them will mention the devotions in their reports of the important events of their day.

My plan is to read part of Psalm 139 to them and remind them that like the psalmist they are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Who knows? One of them might someday read those words and find them familiar and comforting. If that happens, it won’t matter that he will have forgotten the day he heard me read them.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!