Core scripture: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
Message: It is inevitable that all good things must come to an end. Last Friday night that happened for Olathe South football. I could have escaped quickly after the game to get home, grab a hot, soothing shower, and hit the sack, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
Something kept me there.
I wandered into the locker room. It was a scene I would never forget. One of those scenes that would be tattooed on my heart, branded into my mind forever. No words could be said to take away the hurt. Tears. Hugs. Goodbyes. I saw it all. And as the evening faded away, I had to remove my glasses to weep alongside them.
I felt every bit of their pain. After all, I was a part of their team. I had seen them through their entire season, from start to finish. From summer workouts until the last snap of the ball. This team, the team I had adopted as my own, fell to Blue Valley Northwest 68-31, ending their season at 5-5. I wept like Jesus wept when Lazarus was pronounced dead.
What I would do to have His omnipotent power! To flash back and rewind time to the start of that third quarter when the score was only 24-28. It was devastating. Quick. A crushing knockout blow to the jaw followed by an avalanche of punches. A flurry of jabs, hooks, uppercuts, you name it. And when we were down, Northwest went for the jugular, showing no mercy, not calling off the dogs until the 4th quarter began and it was all but over.
Jesus would have resurrected the dead. Me? All I could do was painfully endure the demise. I couldn’t watch anymore. Instead, I got my phone out and began snapping pictures of the players I knew and loved. Players I had guided through weekly devotions every Friday afternoon. I wanted their memories to be captured not only in my heart but also on camera.
Memories. That is all I have left. I wondered long and hard about how to capture them, and I decided they needed to be written down to share with Coach Craig Lewis. Then, and only then, would he realize what being a part of this team in the fall of 2021 meant to me. Here, in no particular order, are those most memorable moments I will cherish.
- Our first devotion meeting drew probably 40 players. There wasn’t an empty chair in room 1003, and I got to preach to the team for the first time. It was a high I had never felt before—especially as senior wide receiver, Erwin Nash, asked me for a copy of the scripture I preached about, Romans 8:28.
- My theme for the following week was communication. It was the day before 9-11, and we talked about how Todd Beamer and a handful of other heroes communicated with each other to take over the terrorists on Flight 93. I thought my inspirational talk would lead them to a win. It didn’t. The Lord humbled me! His message was clear: This is not about you. It is about Me.
- The first game I went to was an age-old rivalry: Olathe South vs. Olathe North. Being on the sidelines was exhilarating. South got thumped that night, and little did anyone know that senior quarterback, Cooper Whitley, would be lost for the season, tearing his MCL.
- Midway through the season, our group had dwindled a bit down to 12-15; however, that allowed for more intimate conversations. I began to learn names and teased a few old students of mine, bringing in my old scrapbooks, showing their teammates what they looked like in 7th grade. My how they change over the course of a few years!
- I invited my boys to attend the Olathe East game with me. Keeping a 4th and 5th grader entertained for over two straight hours was a challenge, but they survived! They resorted to drawing on their drawing pads, watching very little of the game but still enjoying quality time with Dad. South pulled away and won, and my boys celebrated by running sprints down the sideline. We even stayed for the marching band’s glow in the dark performance.
- I could not make it to the first round of the playoffs after school, so I created a video for the boys to watch and discuss Philippians 4:11-13. Cooper led the boys that day, and I met them on the sidelines that night to watch their first playoff game against Blue Valley North. The momentum shifted back and forth in a steady, cold rain. Zane Hall took an improbable punt return to the house. And right when South was down, Erwin Nash hauled in a 45-yard bomb that sealed the win.
- I did not want our last devotion to end. Coach gave me a half hour, and I sucked every minute of it. The lone freshman, Max Armstrong, was nervous to be to his special teams meeting on time, standing as I began to choke up in front of the boys. We took a memorable selfie together. Daniel Palacio, confident in faith, tapped the desk as he left, saying, “See you next week.”
- The first half of the Blue Valley Northwest game was phenomenal. South matched the one-loss juggernaut blow for blow. Erwin Nash played lights out, catching impossible sideline passes. He left it all on the field. Trick plays, momentum shifts, and an improbable kickoff return for a touchdown by quarterback Bryce Noernberg led South to the locker room down four points. I winked at Cooper on the sidelines, saying, “It is time to slay Goliath.”
- All it took was a fumble on their opening drive of the 2nd half for the momentum to shift. BVNW capitalized and struck over and over and OVER until the score was 61-24 at the end of the 3rd quarter. We all knew it was coming to an end. I spent the rest of the game taking pictures of them. Those boys, especially seniors like Travis Curry, Marcus Adams, Garret Reckrodt, and Dean Stotts, will live forever in my heart.
And so that magical season came to culmination, 68-31. I followed them to the locker room to say goodbye and maybe provide a bit of encouragement, but the emotion of the scene got the best of me. I wept like a baby, but it was needed. There was not a dry eye in the house. I knelt next to multiple players, whispering words of comfort and hope. Through the entire ordeal, Coach Lewis was not present.
“Where’s Coach at?” I asked an assistant.
“No clue!” he replied.
I wandered out back under the Friday night lights. The field was clear of everyone—except for Craig Lewis and his family. I let them have their moment, but I had to shake that man’s hand and embrace him in a hug. He had given me the ride of my life. Nothing could touch that.
My final message to the team? Thank you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your season. You guys are beyond special to me. I know I did not mention all your names, but the memories we created were forever. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You fought the good fight, and although the race is over, you kept the faith.
No regrets. None whatsoever.
Challenge: I have found that being a spiritual mentor to others is quite possibly the most fulfilling thing ever. Who can you take under your wing? Who can you help navigate through life, giving them a biblical perspective to conquer giants in their path? Seek out someone who is hungry and humble enough to heed your guidance.
Prayer points: Lift up the following areas to the Lord …
- Pray for the seniors at Olathe South as they take their next steps in life.
- Praise God for opportunities He gives us all to spiritually guide others.
- Pray that the Olathe South players I witnessed to will have their hearts opened to beginning a Bible study in January. I am ready for round two!
Just for fun: We all have our traditions and superstitions. My favorite was from Olathe South senior, Marcus Adams. Marcus came to each devotion dressed in his uniform minus the pads and minus his shirt. Always no shirt. I felt like Will Ferrell in Daddy’s Home when he keeps telling Mark Wahlberg, “Put your shirt on!” Oh, to be a young buck again and to be able to parade around like that. Marcus, you deserve that right. Savor it while you can!
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the phenomenal ways you grew those Olathe South football players throughout their season. May they continue seeking You in their next stage of life. Amen.